NICOG members

Principal Investigators

Prof. Gary Donohoe, Professor of Psychology & Director of NICOG

Gary Donohoe was appointed to the school of psychology as professor of psychology in July 2013. Following the completion of his Doctoral training in Clinical Psychology at Trinity College Dublin, Gary undertook a research fellowship in the TCD neuropsychiatric genetics research, where he earned a PhD in Cognitive Genomics and began the cognitive genomics lab. He was appointed an assistant professor in TCD’s school of medicine in 2006, and associate professor in 2009, where he was responsible for the school of medicine psychology program until 2013. Gary’s research focuses on understanding the genetic and neural basis of cognitive deficits associated with psychosis, and the development of therapeutic programs for overcoming these deficits. Gary continues to lead the Cognitive Genetics and Cognitive Therapy (CogGene) group, members of which are based between the school of psychology NUIG and TCD, where he holds the position of adjunct Professor in the school of medicine and principal investigator in the Trinity College Institute for Neuroscience. Gary also continues to be clinically active in mental health service delivery.

Prof. Colm McDonald - Professor of Psychiatry & Co-Director of NICOG

Colm McDonald is Professor of Psychiatry at National University of Ireland, Galway and Consultant Psychiatrist, West Galway Mental Health Services. He also holds the post of visiting Professor at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London. He completed his basic clinical training in Dublin and then moved to the Institute of Psychiatry in London, where he completed his clinical and research training and received his PhD.

He took up his professorial post in 2005 and has developed a clinical research program which focuses on investigating neurobiological and neuroimaging abnormalities associated with major psychotic and affective disorders. He is Director of the Clinical Neuroimaging Laboratory at NUI Galway. His research projects have been supported by the Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council, Health Research Board, Royal Society, National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, Mental Health Commission. He has authored over 150 original articles published in peer reviewed journals. 

Dr. Derek Morris - Lecturer in Biochemistry

Derek Morris graduated with a B.Sc. in Biotechnology from the National University of Ireland, Galway in 1998. In 2001, he completed his PhD in molecular genetics at the Department of Psychological Medicine, Cardiff University. He subsequently joined the Neuropsychiatric Genetics Research Group in TCD as a research fellow and was awarded a HRB Postdoctoral Career Development Research Fellowship in 2003. In 2006, Dr. Morris was appointed Lecturer in Molecular Psychiatry within the Dept. of Psychiatry in TCD and in 2013 moved to NUI Galway where he is now Lecturer in Biomedical Science.

Dr. Morris’ research interests are the development of novel methods for mapping genes for complex diseases and the application of high-throughput genomics technologies to the detection of risk genes for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He has extensive experience of genome-wide association studies and using SFI funding, set up TrinSeq, the first next-generation sequencing lab in Ireland in 2008. He is currently President of the Irish Society of Human Genetics. His contribution to the Cognitive Genetics Group is study design and the management of biosample resources and genetics data used for ongoing studies.

Dr. Dara M. Cannon – Lecturer in Anatomy

Dr. Dara M. Cannon is a lecturer in anatomy and research scientist at the National University of Ireland Galway, Co-Director of the Clinical Neuroimaging Laboratory, Associate Editor of the peer-reviewed academic journal 'Translational Neuroscience' and an organizing member of the 'Irish Diffusion Imaging Group'. Dr. Cannon's primary goal is to aid in improving our understanding of the biological underpinnings of mood and anxiety disorders by applying in vivo neuroimaging techniques to understand the human brain in particular during depression and anxiety.

Dr. Cannon's experience involves the neuroimaging modalities of positron emission tomography (PET) including mathematical modeling of PET data, and structural and diffusion-weighted (DTI) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The application of these technologies is being used to study receptor mapping in the human brain, bipolar disorder, the menstrual cycle, post-partum depression, temporal lobe epilepsy, brain-derived neurotropic factor as well as neurophysiological, clinical, cognitive, genetic and neuroanatomical contributions to mood disorders and psychosis. Validation of imaging findings is pursued using post-mortem microscopic contributions to the diffusion-weighted signal.

Dr. Brian Hallahan, MB, MD

Brian HallahanDr. Brian Hallahan is a senior lecturer in psychiatry at National University of Ireland, Galway and Consultant Psychiatrist, West Galway Mental Health Services. He completed his basic clinical training in Galway and then moved to Dublin. He engaged in research in Beaumont Hospital, which resulted in him attaining his MD degree. He subsequently worked in the Institute of Psychiatry in London focusing on neuroimaging research in Autism Spectrum Disorders and returned to Ireland to complete his higher training.

Dr. Brian Hallahan worked as a consultant psychiatrist in the Roscommon Mental Health Services before commencing his present post in 2012.Dr. Hallahan clinical research interests include structural neuroimaging of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and autism spectrum disorders. He has over 50 publications in peer reviewed journals and the Genio Trust and Stanley Treatment Trials have supported his research projects.


Dr. David Mothersill - Lecturer in Clinical Neuroscience

David MothersillDavid graduated from Trinity College in 2014 with a PhD in Neuroimaging Genetics.  Following this, he worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow on an SFI funded project examining social cognition in schizophrenia, based in Trinity College and NUI Galway. David started his lectureship in NUI Galway in August 2016, and acts as course coordinator on the newly launched MSc in Clinical Neuroscience. David's research is concerned with cognitive function in psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, how this can be examined at the level of the brain using neuroimaging, and how deficits in cognitive function may be treated. David previously graduated from Trinity College with a BA (Hons) in Zoology and MSc in Neuroscience. He is also a registered member of the Organisation for Human Brain Mapping (OHBM).

Current Post-docs

Dr. Maria Dauvermann

Maria DauvermannMaria is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Cognitive Genetics and Cognitive Therapy (CogGene) group. Maria

received her PhD in Psychiatry and Neuroimaging from the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom, in 2014. Following the PhD, Maria undertook postdoctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, until 2016. Maria is also the study co-ordinator of the iRELATE study. Maria’s research interests focus on the investigation of acute and chronic stress effects and their implication in the aetiology and continuation of major psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia. In particular, Maria studies the impact of acute and chronic stress on cognitive deficits and underlying brain function that may affect individuals in daily life by using neuropsychology, social psychology, neuroendocrinology, immunology and neuroimaging, including functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging.

Dr. Laurena Holleran

Laurena HolleranLaurena is a postdoctoral researcher in the Cognitive Genetics and Cognitive Therapy (CogGene) group, National University of Ireland in Galway and Project Manager of the iRELATE study. Laurena received her PhD in Neuroimaging from NUIG in 2015, after completing a BSc in Anatomy, and MSc in Neuropharmacology. Following her PhD, Laurena spent 2 years as a postdoctoral research associate in the School of Medicine, Washington University St. Louis, Missouri, USA, focusing on advanced diffusion MRI acquisition and analysis


Affiliate Members

John Kelly

John KellyJohn is currently a Personal Professor of Pharmacology and Therapeutics in NUI, Galway. He has over 35 years in pharmacological and toxicological research, 8 of which have been spent in industry. Current areas of research include the mechanisms of action of antidepressants using preclinical models, and the effects of prenatal antidepressant and methamphetamine administration on development in the offspring, as well as developing novel preclinical models of schizophrenia. This research has resulted in over 100 peer-reviewed publications, and the textbook “Principles of CNS drug development: from test tube to patient” published in 2010. He has helped in the development of a range of courses in Pharmacology, Toxicology and Neuroscience, at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, including M.Sc. programmes in Neuropharmacology and Toxicology, B.Sc. in Pharmacology, and undergraduate programmes in Medicine and Nursing. He received the NUI Galway President’s award for teaching excellence in 2011.  

Declan McKernan

Declan MckernanDeclan is currently a lecturer in the discipline of Pharmacology & Therapeutics and is Course Director for the Msc in Neuropharmacology at NUIG. Declan graduated from the University of Limerick with a BSc in Industrial Biochemistry and a PhD in Biochemistry from University College, Cork. Declan then worked as a post-doctoral researcher in the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre at UCC before beginning at NUIG in 2011. Declan’s research interests include understanding the regulation of innate immune responses in the gut and the brain with particular focus on neurodegenerative and psychiatric illnesses.


Dr. Sanbing Shen

Sanbing ShenDr. Sanbing Shen did a BSc (1983) on genetics in Hangzhou University, MSc (1986) on mammalian development in the Chinese Academy of Natural Sciences and PhD (1993) on developmental biology in the Hubrecht Laboratory. He was trained on artificial chromosomes in the MRC Human Genetics Unit, and on Neuroscience in the MRC Brain Metabolism Unit and Edinburgh University. He was appointed as a Lecturer in 2002, Senior Lecturer in 2008 and Reader in 2011 by the University of Aberdeen, and a Professor of Fundamental Stem Cell Biology by the National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway in 2011.

His current research has been focusing on modeling human genetic diseases in mice and in human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Key scientific achievements include (1) discovery of VPAC2 as a master switch of the circadian clock (Shen et al., 2000; Harmar et al., 2002), (2) the discovery of a novel protein kinase ULK4 as a risk factor of neurodevelopmental disorders (Lang et al, 2014), hydrocephalus (Liu et al., 2016a) and neural stem cells (Liu et al., 2016b), (3) discovery of the association of PAC1 with hydrocephalus (Lang et al., 2006; Liu et al., 2016), and (4) generation of Disc1tr mouse model for schizophrenia (Shen et al., 2008) which attracted major industrial funding to Scotland. In NUI Galway, Shen has led a stem cell research program, set up the iPSC technology in Ireland, and derived iPSCs from >50 donors including patients with Autism, Fragile X Syndrome, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Retinitis Pigmentosa, as well as Long QT Syndrome. They are currently characterizing the iPSCs for understanding disease pathology and mechanisms and for drug discovery.


Current PhD Candidates

Genevieve McPhilemy

Genevieve McPhilemy Genevieve completed her BSc in Biomedical Science at NUI Galway in October 2015 with a major in Human Anatomy. Following this, she worked as a part-time teaching assistant at the Department of Anatomy at NUI Galway before commencing her PhD at the Clinical Neuroimaging Laboratory in December 2015. Genevieve’s research combines magnetic resonance imaging techniques, genetic testing and cognitive analyses to examine how genetic factors may influence brain structure and function in bipolar disorder. Her doctoral training is supported by the Irish Research Council and the Postgraduate Scholarship Scheme of the College of Science at the National University of Ireland Galway.

Leila Nabulsi

Leila NabulsiLeila Nabulsi began her Structured PhD in Anatomy in September 2015 in the Clinical Neuroimaging Laboratory at the National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway). Leila obtained her Master’s degree in Pharmacy and Industrial Pharmacy from the University of Ferrara, Italy in 2013 and an MSc in Neuropharmacology from NUI Galway in 2015. Leila has worked on structural parcellation of subjects’ MRIs to compare their performance to atlas-based parcellation as base node definition methods for brain connectivity analyses in bipolar disorder. Her current research project aims to contribute to the elucidation of the role of the muscarinic-cholinergic system in mood regulation using graph theory methods, and more specifically to determine the role of structural and functional connectivity as they relate to the genetic variation in the muscarinic-cholinergic M2 receptor gene, cholinergic neurotransmission and emotion regulation in bipolar disorder. Her doctoral training is supported by the Irish Research Council and the Postgraduate Scholarship Scheme of the College of Science at the National University of Ireland Galway.

Theophilus Akudjedu

Theophilus AkudjeduTheophilus Akudjedu began his PhD (Medicine) in January 2016 in the Clinical Neuroimaging Laboratory. He completed an undergraduate training in Diagnostic Radiology at the University of Ghana (2012) and an MSc in Neuroimaging at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience – King’s College London (2015). Prior to starting the MSc in London, Theophilus, worked as a diagnostic radiographer with the 37 Military Hospital and the Wenchi Methodist Hospital, all in Ghana. While at the Institute of Psychiatry, Theophilus investigated the neurocognitive regulation of anxiety states using suggestions and fMRI. He is currently researching the optimal techniques for use in the segmentation of neuroanatomical structures involved in psychiatric disorders. He is generally interested in the application of various imaging modalities in psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience. His doctoral training is supported by the Postgraduate Scholarship Scheme of the College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at the National University of Ireland Galway.

Laura Whitton

Laura WhittonLaura graduated with a BSc. (Hons) in Neuroscience from the University of Dublin in 2010. Following this, she completed a MSc. in Molecular Medicine, awarded by Trinity College Dublin in 2012. In 2014, she started a PhD in the Dept. of Biochemistry at NUI Galway. Laura’s PhD project focuses on schizophrenia risk genes that function in epigenetic processes and how variants in these genes may contribute to cognitive deficits associated with schizophrenia. Her future aim is to investigate functional consequences of these risk variants at a molecular level and uncover downstream pathways potentially affected by changes in these genes which may contribute schizophrenia pathology.

Donna Cosgrove

Donna has a background in Pharmacy, graduating with a BPharm (Hons) from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 2009. She completed an M.Sc. in Neuropharmacology in 2013 and then started a PhD in the Dept. of Psychology in NUI Galway in 2014. Donna’s PhD project aims to investigate the effect of genetic variants that have been found to contribute to schizophrenia, particularly looking at cognitive differences and neurobiological pathways affected.


Jessica Holland

Jessica graduated with a BSc. (Hons) in Psychology from the University of Limerick in 2014. Following this, she completed a MSc. in Neuropsychology, awarded by University of Maastricht in 2015. Jessica's PhD project centers on genetic risk factors for psychosis and brain activity related to social cognition, and particular genetic risk factors for schizophrenia related to immune health.


Karolina Rokita

Karolina RokitaKarolina graduated with a MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience from Aston University (UK) in 2014. Following this, she worked as a Research Assistant at the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at Coventry University on a collaborative project with University of Oxford, investigating the neural and cognitive bases of supernatural beliefs using brain stimulation (tDCS). Karolina’s main research interests are in cognition, neurolinguistics and mental disorders. Her doctoral training is supported by the Hardiman Research Scholarship and focuses on neuropsychological and neuroimaging studies of social cognition in Schizophrenia.

Catherine O’ Donoghue

Catherine O'DonoghueCatherine graduated with an MSc in Neuroscience in Trinity College Dublin in 2015, having previously completed her BA (Hons) in Psychology also in Trinity College Dublin. She has worked as a research assistant in the NEIL institute in TCD and in the UCD School of Medicine. Catherine’s PhD project centres on whether deficits in social cognition in schizophrenia can be explained by an abnormal immune response that is caused by genetic risk factors and moderated by early social environment.

Giulia Tronchin

Giulia TronchinGiulia Tronchin completed her Bachelor Degree in Psychological Sciences and Techniques at the University of Trieste (Italy) in 2013 and her Master degree in Psychology (Neuroscience) at University of Trento (Italy) in 2016. At the present she is working as visiting researcher in the Clinical Neuroimaging Laboratory of the National University of Ireland, Galway. Her project aims to clarify the nature of progression of neuroanatomical abnormalities in prefrontal regions of patients with first episode of psychosis to better understand the impact of these changes on executive function and the clinical symptoms.

Laura Costello

Laura CostelloLaura began her PhD in October, 2017 at the Clinical Neuroimaging Lab, Galway (NUIG). Laura’s PhD research involves using in-vivo neuroimaging techniques, specifically structural and diffusion MR imaging, to investigate the relationship between early adverse life events and psychosis by mapping the brains’ structural connectivity network.Prior to this, she completed her undergraduate degree: B.A. in Denominated Psychology (Hons) at the National University of Ireland, Galway (2013-2016). Following this, she graduated with a masters degree (MSc) in Clinical Neuroscience at the National University of Ireland, Galway (2016-2017).


Current Research Assistants

Fiona Martyn

Fiona MartynFiona is a research assistant in the Clinical Neuroimaging Lab. She is currently a student of neuropsychology in Bangor University, Gwynedd, Wales. Fiona was employed for many years as a forensic alcohol and other drugs counsellor in Australia, and worked with young people who were involved in the criminal justice system and who also used drugs. This experience has informed her research interests, which include using magnetic resonance imaging to investigate alterations in the brain associated with substance use in major affective disorders.

Past PhD Students

  • Dr Joanne Kenney
  • Dr Stefani O'Donoghue
  • Srinath Ambati
  • Dr Rachael Dillion

Past Post-docs

  • Dr Pablo Najt
  • Dr Niall Colgan
  • Dr April Hargreaves
  • Dr JingJing Zhao