The overarching purpose of the Nielson lab is to understand and treat trauma. Research projects in the lab utilize a multidisciplinary approach, merging the fields of neurobiology, psychiatry, and informatics to identify more precise "bio-types" of trauma psychopathology than traditional diagnostic criteria, and potential novel targets for treatment. They use established and emerging machine learning methods with multi-modal data spanning across a diverse range of diagnostic categories for neuropsychiatric disorders. This approach can be used to run hypotheses on in silico models to understand the complexity involved in these disorders. An advantage of such approaches is the minimization for the need to test hypotheses in animal models (in vivo). The PI received an Early Stage Investigator (ESI) award from NIMH to apply these methods to large datasets from trauma-exposed patients to identify and validate dimensions of post-traumatic stress (PTS), relevant biological predictors, and precision treatment response trajectories.
Other areas of focus in the lab are dedicated to psychedelic neuroscience research and drug policy reform. The researchers have been collecting data through an anonymous online survey to assess benefits and risks of ayahuasca use in naturalistic settings to treat symptoms of trauma. They are also conducting research into the neurological mechanisms of altered states of consciousness and their role in promoting neuroplasticity and wellness in healthy research participants. These, and other data, are part of a larger network of data supporting the potential for psychedelic therapies and experiences to promote wellness across a diverse range of mental health disorders.