Research

Background & Motivation: As an alternative to widely used symptom- and substitution-oriented treatments in psychiatry, we develop novel process-oriented paradigms that are less focused on specific symptoms and their substitution by means of psychotropic drugs, but rather aim at directly resolving underlying maladaptive processes. Our iterative research and development program is based on clinical evidence that psychedelic compounds in supportive settings facilitate transformative experiences that are followed by rapid and sustainable decreases in anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress and addictive behaviors.  

Psychedelic Research: While ketamine and psilocybin have been researched extensively in the past decades, the indigenous plant medicine ayahuasca currently stimulates a tremendous public and scientific interest due to its antidepressant, anxiolytic and anti-addictive properties. Using pharmaceutically standardized ayahuasca compounds, we study its biomechanisms and efficacy for stress-related mood disorders.  Using state-of-the-art multimodal neuroimaging (fMRI, EEG, MRS, ASL) and blood biomarkers, we investigate how pharmacological modulation of cerebral circuits predict behavioral change, adaptive neuroplasticity, sleep physiology, and psychotherapeutic treatment outcomes. Methodologically, we develop novel approaches to brain imaging such topological data analysis and graph theory to get insight into the overall spatiotemporal organization of brain dynamics during altered states of consciousness. We explore the experiential diversity of psychedelic states using neurophenomenological approaches (e.g. micro-phenomenology) with a particular focus on transformative experiences and therapeutic change mechanisms. In collaboration with the Global Ayahuasca Project we aim at developing machine learning methods for characterizing, predicting and optimizing the contextual factors of psychotropic drug effects from large epidemiological datasets.

Therapy Development: Psychotherapy research is moving away from the era of protocols for symptom-based diagnostic categories towards personalized, transdiagnostic and modular approaches. For clinical trials with psychedelics, we develop a specifically tailored process-based treatment manual to investigate the temporal dynamics of changeable transdiagnostic processes using ecological momentary assessment (EMA) technologies. This manual will allow the comparative empirical assessment of the potential of psychedelic compounds to specifically enhance the therapeutic efficacy of psychotherapeutic interventions in different patient populations. Thus, our research investigates the use of psychotropic drugs in an evidence-based psychotherapeutic context, moving from substitution-oriented to process-oriented paradigms.

Psychedelic Research & Therapy Develpment

 

Keywords

Psychedelics

Ayahuasca & DMT

Rapid-acting Antidepressants

Stress-related Mood Disorders

Multimodal Neuroimaging

Biomarkers & Neuroplasticity

Psychological Flexibility

Mindfulness

Process-based Psychotherapy

Ecological Momentary Assessments

Research Projects

  • RECONNECT - Iterative research and development program towards an innovative transformation-based treatment of affective disorders (Forschungskredit UZH, 2019 – 2020)
  • PEGAMI - Towards a safe, effective and rapid-acting treatment of mood disorders (BioEntrepreneur Fellowship UZH, 2019 – 2020)
  • The role of serotonin in modulating empathy and prosocial human behavior (SNF doc.ch – 2020-2023)
  • PEGAMI - Towards a safe, effective and rapid-acting treatment of affective disorders (SNF Bridge Proof of Concept, 2020-2021)
  • Microphenomenology and Psychedelics: A Two-fold Approach to Enhancing Psychotherapy and Consciousness Research (SNF Spark, 2020-2021)
  • RECONNECT - Iterative research and development program towards personalized, transdiagnostic and process-oriented psychotherapy (Hans-Marianne Schwyn Foundation, 2020 – 2023)