I am an Assistant Professor (Research) at Durham University currently working in collaboration with Prof Colin Lever (Durham University) and Prof Neil Burgess (UCL). My research investigates how the building blocks of memory (neurons) work in a part of the brain called the hippocampus – the brain region that is attacked first in Alzheimer’s disease.
We know one of the key signs of Alzheimer’s disease is the patient forgetting where objects, such as keys, are located, but to understand why these memory problems occur we must identify and then characterise the types of brain cells affected. A substantial body of work has identified certain types of brain cells in the hippocampus that code for where we are in space (our inner GPS), but less is known about the brain cells coding for where other things are in that space.
Recently, we discovered a new type of brain cell, the Vector Trace Cell (VTC) - featured as a cover story in New Scientist, in over 100 media outlets worldwide, and published in Nature Neuroscience - that not only codes for the locations of objects, but remembers those locations even when the objects are no longer present. This newly discovered cell type provides a novel bioassay for testing Alzheimer drug treatments.
I hope to translate insights from basic research on the hippocampal formation into clinical practice, focusing on spatial and episodic memory in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). I worked in John O’Keefe’s lab (UCL) as a PhD student/post-doc on spatial representation and memory mechanisms, before setting up my own lab (Leeds University 2005-2011, Durham University 2011-present).
With Neil Burgess and John O’Keefe at UCL, I discovered a new type of spatial cell called the boundary vector cell (BVC). BVC spatial coding, like that of other hippocampal spatial neurons, occurs in a viewpoint-independent manner. Viewpoint-independent spatial memory is tested in The Four Mountains task, developed by Neil Burgess and Tom Hartley (York), a key test in the ‘Detecting Dementia Earlier’ project I am the joint PI of (with Dr Stephen Evans, York Teaching Hospitals Trust, a co-founder of Neuraclin).
With a view towards AD diagnosis, my lab is developing an Episodic Memory video task, tapping spatial associations and sequence memory, and a task based on our discovery of vector trace cells (Poulter et al, Nature Neuroscience, 2021), tapping object location memory.
I am Lead Consultant Clinical Psychologist (Neuropsychology & Neurorehabilitation) in the Department of Psychological Medicine in York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. I was previously working as a Clinical Psychologist specialising in neuropsychology at James Cook University Hospital. I am an Honorary Research Fellow with Durham University. My broad research interests are listed below:
I am a published author in the field of memory research and have collaborations with numerous academic staff across various universities in the UK. I am joint Principal Investigator with Dr. Colin Lever on the “Detecting Dementia Earlier” project, a collaboration between James Cook University Hospital’s Voluntary Service Council and Durham University. I was the local PI on a multicentre RCT “The CRAMMS trial” which is a project in collaboration with Professor Nadina Lincoln from Nottingham University looking at the effectiveness of a group neurorehabilitation intervention for individuals with Multiple Sclerosis. I was also one of the joint local PIs for a phase III NIHR funded RCT “The ReMeBrin Trial” which was also in collaboration with Nottingham University, with Professor Rosham Das Nair. The ReMeBrin Trial looked at the effectiveness of a group rehabilitation intervention for individuals with traumatic brain injuries. I am currently working with Professor Alan Baddeley, developing research into Accelerated Long Term forgetting in patients with epilepsy and in mixed neurological groups.
I have acted as an NHS field supervisor for many Trainee Clinical Psychologists undertaking their D.Clin.Psy theses, which has been in collaboration with the Universities of Teesside, Leeds and Newcastle.
I am passionate about research as a means of improving health related quality of life and reducing emotional distress in our communities. My goal is to bridge university-driven academic psychology with the expertise of local NHS professionals to maximise the use of our respective skill sets.