RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT

Dr Cassandra Wannan

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Dr Cassandra Wannan is a Research Fellow at the Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre. Her current work focuses on the use of multivariate approaches, incorporating neuroimaging, cognition, early life stress, and sociocultural factors, to understand illness trajectories and outcomes in neurodevelopmental disorders.

 

Dr Wannan has specialist experience in:

  • structural and diffusion MRI;

  • cognitive development; and

  • cognitive impairment in psychotic disorders.

 

Prior to her doctoral studies, Dr Wannan worked as a statistician and senior research officer at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (2010-2019), where she gained expertise in designing and leading large-scale research projects relating to best practice in surgical training and assessment.

 

Dr Wannan completed her PhD in April 2021, conducting a series of studies examining the longitudinal course of episodic memory ability in early psychosis, and the contribution of hippocampal and white matter abnormalities to memory impairment across stages of psychotic illness (see pictures on left).

 

While completing her PhD she was involved in 15 peer-reviewed publications, including 4 first author publications in journals including the American Journal of Psychiatry and Psychological Medicine. Her novel work examining network-based cortical thickness reductions in schizophrenia is in the top 10% most cited publications worldwide by publication date.

Synopsis

Dr Wannan was the recipient of a Nikolaos and Dimitra Pantelis Travelling Scholarship in 2019. Thanks to this scholarship, Dr Wannan was able to attend the Schizophrenia International Research Society conference in Orlando, Florida in 2019 to present her research. Dr Wannan's research is focused on memory impairment in schizophrenia and is exploring why cognition is often impaired in people impacted by this condition. By engaging schizophrenia patients in computerised memory tasks and analysing these results alongside images generated from MRI, Dr Wannan has been able to demonstrate that there are two subfields of the hippocampus that are strongly related to memory impairment.

Dr Wannan has been the recipient of the following awards:

  • Cooperative Research Centre for Mental Health PhD top-up scholarship

  • Students of Brain Research: Poster Excellence Award (2017)

  • Biological Psychiatry Australia: Best Data Blitz Presentation (2017)

Awards and where to find out more

Current work

Dr Wannan works across multiple projects within the MNC, with a current focus on the following:

  • Work with the Schizotypy in Children research project: supporting the redevelopment of an fMRI task for use with young children with schizotypal features, autism and neurotypical development.

 

Example task stimulus for use in brain imaging with children

  • Work with the Animal Neuroimaging Group: supporting the analysis of preclinical neuroimaging data using cutting edge methodological advancements.

  • Work with the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) working group: developing neuroimaging techniques for use in infant populations, and examining developmental trajectories of brain connectivity to aid in the early detection of ASD.

  • Examination of the prevalence of different types of psychosocial stressors across a range of mental and physical health disorders, and their relationships with brain structure and cognitive functioning.

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