Barbara Sahakian

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Barbara Jacquelyn Sahakian
Spouse(s) Trevor Robbins[1]
Awards Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (2004)
F C Donders Chair of Psychopharmacology (2005)
Alfred Deakin Innovation Lecture (2008)
University of Pennsylvania Distinguished International Scholar Award (2009)
ICGP Senior Investigator Award (2010)
Doctor of Science (2015)
Fellow of the British Academy (2017)
Scientific career
Institutions University of Cambridge
Clare Hall, Cambridge

Barbara Jacquelyn Sahakian, FBA, FMedSci is Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology at the Department of Psychiatry and Medical Research Council (MRC)/Wellcome Trust Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, University of Cambridge. She is also an Honorary Clinical Psychologist at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge.[3] She has an international reputation in the fields of cognitive psychopharmacology, neuroethics, neuropsychology, neuropsychiatry and neuroimaging.[4][5][6]

Professor Sahakian is a Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge.[7] She is currently President of the International Neuroethics Society (INS), of which she is a founder member.[8] She is Past-President of the British Association for Psychopharmacology (BAP), having served as President from 2012 to 2014.[9]


Sahakian completed her PhD in Psychopharmacology in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge.[10] Following this, Sahakian studied for a Diploma in Clinical Psychology and became a Chartered Psychologist.[11]


Sahakian is best known for her work on cognitive enhancement using pharmacological treatments, early detection of Alzheimer's disease, cognition and depression and neuroethics. Sahakian's research is aimed at understanding the neural basis of cognitive, emotional and behavioural dysfunction to develop more effective pharmacological and psychological treatments. The focus of her lab is on early detection of neuropsychiatric disorders, differential diagnosis and proof of concept studies using cognitive enhancing drugs and cognitive training.[9]

In her research, Sahakian uses techniques such as psychopharmacological, neuropsychological and neuroimaging (fMRI and PET). Key research areas for her group are Alzheimer's disease, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), substance abuse, depression and mania.[4][5]

Professor Sahakian was one of the first researchers to suggest that attentional dysfunction in Alzheimer’s disease could be ameliorated using pharmacotherapy, such as cholinesterase inhibitors.[12] In addition, she was early to highlight the 'hot' and 'cold' cognitive changes in unipolar and bipolar depression, as well as their significance for functional outcome.[13] Furthermore, she provided a theoretical framework for the beneficial effects of pharmacological and psychological treatments in depression.[14]

In 2007, Sahakian raised concerns regarding the ethics of using drugs intended to help dementia and Alzheimer's sufferers to instead enhance cognitive function in healthy people.[15][16] In May 2014, Sahakian published an article on the subject of achieving brain health for a flourishing society within the next decade.[17] In this article, she included a list of experts from a range of areas, including neuroscience, innovation and technology. Sahakian was asked to write this article for Sir John Beddington, Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government.[18]

Sahakian has published over 400 papers[5] covering these topics in scientific journals, including many publications in the prestigious scientific and medical journals Science,[19] Nature,[20] Nature Neuroscience,[21] The Lancet,[22] and the British Medical Journal.[23][24] She is an Associate Editor of Psychological Medicine.[25] The ISI Web of Science database credits her with a Hirsch (h) Index of 100.[26]

Sahakian is co-author of 'Bad Moves. How decision making goes wrong and the ethics of smart drugs', published by Oxford University Press in 2013.[27] She is also co-editor of 'The Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics', published in 2011 by Oxford University Press.[28]

In addition to her Presidencies of the BAP and INS, Sahakian is also on the council of the International College of Neuropsychopharmacology (CINP)[29] and on the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) Review Board.[30] She is also a London Imperial Affiliated Professor[31] and a Distinguished Research fellow at the University of Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics.[32] Previously, Sahakian has been a member of the MRC Neurosciences and Mental Health Board (2006–2010) and a member of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Committee on Women in Neuroscience.[9] Recently, a Royal Institution article named Barbara Sahakian amongst the top women in science.[33]


Sahakian's research uses neuropsychological tests, such as the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB) tests, which she co-invented in the 1980s.[34] CANTAB is now used at over 700 research institutes worldwide and is backed by over 1,200 peer-review articles.[35] Sahakian serves as a Senior Consultant to Cambridge Cognition, a spin-out of the University of Cambridge. Cambridge Cognition now provides CANTAB.[36]

The CANTAB PAL touchscreen test, which assesses visual memory and new learning, received the highest rating of world-leading 4* grade from the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014.[37][38] Following this award, CANTAB and CANTAB PAL were highlighted in the Medical Schools Council ‘Health of the Nation’ 2015 publication, which described CANTAB as a boost to the UK economy.[39]

Neuroscience and mental health policy[edit]

Sahakian is a lead on many high-impact international neuroscience and mental health policy reports,[40] including the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) funded report on Grand Challenges in Global Mental Health[41] and the UK Government Foresight Project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing in 2008.[42] The latter project emphasised good brain health and wellbeing throughout the life course and highlighted important concepts, such as cognitive reserve and resilience to stress.[43]

Sahakian recently presented on neuroscience and mental health policy at the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2014 in Davos, Switzerland. She is a Member of the WEF Global Agenda Council on Brain Research.[44]


Sahakian frequently engages the public in science, appearing on programmes such as BBC Newsnight,[45] and on both The Life Scientific[2] and the Today Programme[46] on BBC Radio 4. She has also taken part in numerous newspaper interviews, such as The Sunday Times[47] and Forbes Online.[48] In 2012, Sahakian contributed to the catalogue and appeared in a video for the Wellcome Trust Superhuman Exhibition.[49] In May 2014, she took part in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA), fielding questions on a range of subjects, such as depression and cognitive enhancing drugs.[50] In July 2014, Sahakian dispelled the myth that humans only use 10% of their brains in regard to the plot of the film Lucy.[51] In March 2015, she advised on the ‘You have been upgraded’ event at the Science Museum in London, which featured demonstrations by members of her Laboratory.[52] In the context of presentations on neuroscience, brain health, cognitive enhancement and neuropsychiatric disorders, she has frequently stated the importance of understanding brain health and disease.[53][54]

Honours and awards[edit]

Since 2004, Sahakian has been a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences.[55] She is also associated with the Human Brain Project.[56] Sahakian is also a Member of the International Expert Jury for the 2017 Else Kröner-Fresenius-Stiftung Prize.[57]

Sahakian was he was appointed to the F C Donders Chair of Psychopharmacology at the University of Utrecht in 2005 and the Distinguished International Scholar Award at the University of Pennsylvania in 2009. In 2010, she received the International College of Geriatric Psychoneuropharmacology (ICGP) Senior Investigator Award.[9] In 2008, Sahakian gave the Alfred Deakin Innovation Lecture in Melbourne, Australia.[58]

In 2015, Sahakian was awarded a Doctor of Science degree from the University of Cambridge,[59] which is the highest degree awarded by the University for distinguished research in science.[60]

In July 2017, Sahakian was elected a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA), the United Kingdom's national academy for the humanities and social sciences.[61]


  1. ^ "ROBBINS, Prof. Trevor Robbins". Oxford University Press. A & C Black. 2014. Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "Barbara Sahakian". The Life Scientific. 29 May 2012. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014. 
  3. ^ "Profile: Barbara Sahakian". World Economic Forum. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "Profile: Barbara Sahakian". Cambridge Neuroscience. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c List of publications from Microsoft Academic Search
  6. ^ "BBC Radio 4 – The Life Scientific, Barbara Sahakian". Retrieved 4 December 2012. 
  7. ^ "Fellows of Clare Hall". Clare Hall, University of Cambridge. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  8. ^ "Professor Barbara Sahakian elected President of the International Neuroethics Society". Cambridge Neuroscience. 12 August 2013. Retrieved 19 August 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c d "Professor Barbara Sahakian - BAP Officer Profile". The British Association for Psychopharmacology. Retrieved 7 September 2014. 
  10. ^ Sahakian, Barbara (1977). The effects of isolation on the unconditional behaviour and response to drugs in rats (PhD thesis). University of Cambridge. 
  11. ^ "Barbara Sahakian: Profile". The Oxford Centre for Neuroethics. Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  12. ^ Eagger, S. A.; Levy, R.; Sahakian, B. J. (1991). "Tacrine in Alzheimer's disease". The Lancet. 337 (8748): 989. doi:10.1016/0140-6736(91)92656-M. 
  13. ^ Roiser, J. P.; Sahakian, B. J. (Jun 2013). "Hot and cold cognition in depression". CNS Spectrums. 18 (3): 139–149. doi:10.1017/S1092852913000072. PMID 23481353. 
  14. ^ Roiser, J. P.; Elliott, R.; Sahakian, B. J. (2011). "Cognitive Mechanisms of Treatment in Depression". Neuropsychopharmacology. 37 (1): 117–136. doi:10.1038/npp.2011.183. PMC 3238070Freely accessible. PMID 21976044. 
  15. ^ Sahakian, Barbara. "Decision Making & the Ethics of "Smart Drugs"". The Global Herald. 24 Hour Trading Ltd. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  16. ^ Sahakian, B. J.; Morein-Zamir, S., eds. (2007). "Professor's little helper". Nature. 450 (7173): 1157–1159. doi:10.1038/4501157a. PMID 18097378. 
  17. ^ Sahakian, Barbara J. (Jun 2014). "What do experts think we should do to achieve brain health?". Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 43: 240–258. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.04.002. PMID 24742821. 
  18. ^ "What do experts think we should do to achieve brain health? Press Release". Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  19. ^ Sahakian, B. J.; Morein-Zamir, S. (2009). "Neuroscientists Need Neuroethics Teaching". Science. 325 (5937): 147. doi:10.1126/science.325_147a. PMID 19589983. 
  20. ^ Insel, T. R.; Sahakian, B. J.; Voon, V.; Nye, J.; Brown, V. J.; Altevogt, B. M.; Bullmore, E. T.; Goodwin, G. M.; Howard, R. J.; Kupfer, D. J.; Malloch, G.; Marston, H. M.; Nutt, D. J.; Robbins, T. W.; Stahl, S.; Tricklebank, M. D.; Williams, J. H. (2012). "Drug research: A plan for mental illness". Nature. 483 (7389): 269. doi:10.1038/483269a. PMID 22422245. 
  21. ^ Aron, A. R.; Fletcher, P. C.; Bullmore, E. T.; Sahakian, B. J.; Robbins, T. W. (2003). "Stop-signal inhibition disrupted by damage to right inferior frontal gyrus in humans". Nature Neuroscience. 6 (2): 115–116. doi:10.1038/nn1003. PMID 12536210. 
  22. ^ Sahakian, B. J.; Malloch, G.; Kennard, C. (2010). "A UK strategy for mental health and wellbeing". The Lancet. 375 (9729): 1854. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(10)60817-3. 
  23. ^ Sugden, C.; Aggarwal, R.; Housden, C.; Sahakian, B. J.; Darzi, A. (2010). "Pharmacological enhancement of performance in doctors". BMJ. 340: c2542. doi:10.1136/bmj.c2542. PMID 20483930. 
  24. ^ Orrell, M.; Sahakian, B. (1995). "Education and dementia". BMJ. 310 (6985): 951–952. doi:10.1136/bmj.310.6985.951. PMC 2549351Freely accessible. PMID 7728017. 
  25. ^ "Psychological Medicine: Editorial Board". Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 26 September 2014. 
  26. ^ "Barbara Sahakian – Citation Report". Web of Science. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  27. ^ "Bad Moves Book Details". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  28. ^ "Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  29. ^ "CINP Executive Committee & Council 2014 - 2016". CINP. Retrieved 25 March 2015. 
  30. ^ "Review Board". ECNP. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  31. ^ "Barbara Sahakian at the WEF". Cambridge Neuroscience. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  32. ^ "Barbara Sahakian's Profile". University of Oxford Practical Ethics. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  33. ^ Cardew, Gail (8 March 2014). "Top 10 women in science – an impossible task?". The Royal Institution. Retrieved 13 August 2014. 
  34. ^ Sahakian, B. J.; Morris, R. G.; Evenden, J. L.; Heald, A.; Levy, R.; Philpot, M.; Robbins, T. W. (1988). "A Comparative Study of Visuospatial Memory and Learning in Alzheimer-Type Dementia and Parkinson's Disease". Brain. 111 (3): 695–718. doi:10.1093/brain/111.3.695. PMID 3382917. 
  35. ^ "Overview of CANTAB". Cambridge Cognition. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  36. ^ "Science Team". Cambridge Cognition. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  37. ^ "REF Impact Case Study - CANTAB-PAL". Research Excellence Framework. Retrieved 11 February 2015. 
  38. ^ "World-leading UK medical research showcased in new publication". Medical Schools Council. 29 January 2015. Archived from the original on 11 February 2015. Retrieved 11 February 2015. 
  39. ^ "Health of the Nation" (PDF). Medical Schools Council. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 February 2015. Retrieved 11 February 2015. 
  40. ^ "Barbara Sahakian Q&A". Cambridge Science Festival. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  41. ^ Collins, P. Y.; Patel, V.; Joestl, S. S.; March, D.; Insel, T. R.; Daar, A. S.; Bordin, I. A.; Costello, E. J.; Durkin, M.; Fairburn, C.; Glass, R. I.; Hall, W.; Huang, Y.; Hyman, S. E.; Jamison, K.; Kaaya, S.; Kapur, S.; Kleinman, A.; Ogunniyi, A.; Otero-Ojeda, A.; Poo, M.; Ravindranath, V.; Sahakian, B. J.; Saxena, S.; Singer, P. A.; Stein, D. J.; Anderson, W.; Dhansay, M. A.; Ewart, W,; Phillips, A.; Shurin, S.; Walport, M. "Grand challenges in global mental health". Nature. 475: 27–30. doi:10.1038/475027a. PMC 3173804Freely accessible. PMID 21734685. 
  42. ^ "Mental Capital and Wellbeing Foresight Report". UK Government. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  43. ^ Beddington, J.; Cooper, C. L.; Field, J.; Goswami, U.; Huppert, F. A.; Jenkins, R.; Jones, H. S.; Kirkwood, T. B.; Sahakian, B. J.; Thomas, S. M. (2008). "The mental wealth of nations". Nature. 455 (7216): 1057–60. doi:10.1038/4551057a. PMID 18948946. 
  44. ^ "Cambridge Neuroscience". Barbara Sahakian at the WEF in Davos 2014. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  45. ^ Watts, Susan (9 November 2011). "Do cognitive-enhancing drugs work?". BBC News. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  46. ^ "Brain Stimulation Report". BBC Today. 
  47. ^ Martin, Minette (3 January 2010). "It's a no-brainer – bring on the pills that will make us smarter". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  48. ^ Kotler, Stephen (14 May 2012). "Training The Brain of an Entrepreneur". Forbes. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  49. ^ "Superhuman Collection". Wellcome Trust. Retrieved 10 July 2014. 
  50. ^ Sahakian, Barbara (30 May 2014). "From lost memories to brain drugs, a neuroscientist explains". The Conversation. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  51. ^ Blackburn, Ralph (20 July 2014). "The underused brain? It's all in the mind: Film-makers' much-loved idea that we only use 10 per cent of our grey cells is a fiction". The Independent. Retrieved 10 November 2014. 
  52. ^ "Brain training at the Science Museum". Cambridge Neuroscience. 8 April 2015. Retrieved 6 May 2015. 
  53. ^ Sahakian, Barbara (15 August 2013). "Burden of brain disorders ignored by government". The Conversation. Retrieved 10 July 2014. 
  54. ^ Sahakian, Barbara (16 May 2014). "Five brain challenges we can overcome in the next decade". The Conversation. Retrieved 10 July 2014. 
  55. ^ "Barbara Sahakian – Profile". Academy of Medical Sciences. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  56. ^ "Principal Investigators". Human Brain Project. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  57. ^ "The 2017 Else Kröner Fresenius Preis für Medizinische Forschung". Else Kröner-Fresenius-Stiftung. Retrieved 24 September 2015. 
  58. ^ Miller, Nick (6 June 2008). "'Smart drugs' need smarter risk-handling". The Age. Retrieved 15 September 2014. 
  59. ^ "Congregation of the Regent House on 21 March 2015". Cambridge University Reporter (6381). 25 March 2015. Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  60. ^ "Information for candidates for the ScD Degree". University of Cambridge. Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  61. ^ "Elections to the British Academy celebrate the diversity of UK research". British Academy. 2 July 2017. Retrieved 29 July 2017. 

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