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NWO Open Competition grant for two Leiden psychologists with promising research projects

In the third round of the NWO Open Competition SGW-XS pilot program, development psychologist Anke Klein and neuropsychologist Marit Ruitenberg each received a NWO XS grant for their research proposals. These grants are awarded to research projects with a promising ideas or innovative initiatives. Previously five other Leiden psychologists already received a grant in one of the earlier rounds of the competition.

Anke Klein

More than the sum of its parts: investigating the parts of a combined parent-child treatment for children with social anxiety

Social anxiety disorder is one of the most prevalent mental disorders in childhood with a large impact on the lives of children and their families. Unfortunately, the majority of children who receive treatment still experience significant anxiety after treatment, stressing the need for more insight into mechanisms of change. This project tests a new program, in which parent-focused and child-focused interventions are combined, based on recent theoretical insights. The intensive measurements during the program increase our understanding of treatment success and the so needed substantial improvement in treatment outcome and break the ‘ceiling’ that has limited treatment outcomes for decades.

'Sometimes you submit a research proposal of which you think, wow, this could be really big. Even while writing it, you feel the proposal growing, you feel energy building and enthusiasm increasing in the team you are working with. This is one of those proposals. A proposal for a research where we are going to try to make the lives of children with social anxiety disorder a lot more pleasant. We are not only going to support not the children themselves, but also their parents. Parenting and guiding your child is so complicated. You try to do the best you can and yet you doubt all the time if you are doing it correctly. By guiding children and their parents together in their own process, we hope to take a big new step to better understand how anxiety works and increase treatment outcomes. And if you can do such a project together with an inspiring international research team with so much expertise, that's just an added bonus!'

Marit Ruitenberg

Fine-grained motor measures as a novel behavioral proxy for brain network integrity in MS

Recent work in people with multiple sclerosis (MS) showed that having an intact functional brain network is a requirement for successful rehabilitation. When the brain network showed abnormalities due to MS, patients did not benefit from rehabilitation. Therefore it is very important to detect the very first changes early on, so that rehabilitation can be started in a timely manner. However, it is not yet possible to map the state of a person's brain network through brain scans. Therefore, there is a need for other measures that can say something about the brain network of an individual patient.

'I am very pleased that this grant will allow me to use my expertise in motor skills and the brain in a new target group (people with MS) for me. Together with the research team of prof. Hanneke Hulst, I will measure the motor skills of people with MS in a new, very accurate way. This has to be done precisely because the smallest changes are likely to be related to anomalies in the integrity of the brain network. With this project, we hope to gain new insights into how we can determine the state of a person's brain network at the individual patient level, with the ultimate goal of treating people with MS in a timely and appropriate manner.'

To help raise awareness for MS, Ruitenberg will be running 50 km during the month May. You can support her by donating money that will be used for groundbreaking MS research. 

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