Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Topic: Psychopharmacology in Health and Medical Psychology

In this research line, the role pharmacological agents and neurochemcial processes play in behavior and cognition is examined with a particular focus on pain, placebo and nocebo effects and intensive care treatments.

Judy Veldhuijzen

Contact person

Judy Veldhuijzen obtained her PhD in Psychopharmacology at the department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Utrecht University in 2005. In her PhD projects, she studied the role of pain on cognition and examined the interacting role of pharmacological pain treatments (e.g., amitriptyline – a tricyclic antidepressant- and gabapentin - an anti-epileptic drug) in this relationship. Between 2005-2007 she was a post-doc researcher at the University of Maryland Baltimore (UMB) and Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, USA, where she studied sex differences, and more specifically the role of gonadal hormones (I.e., estradiol, testosterone, progesterone), on pain and cognition. Between 2007-2014 she worked as a postdoc and later as an Assistant Professor at the department of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine to conduct a variety of studies on pain and cognition and also extended her work to establish risk factors (among others pharmaceutical agents and endogenous pathways) for psychosocial long-term outcomes in Intensive Care patients (see separate topic description for more details and up-to-date information of ongoing projects).  Judy joined the Health and Medical Psychology unit at Leiden University in 2014 where she continued working on these research lines and also joined Prof Andrea Evers in her work on placebo and nocebo effects particularly focusing on the neurochemical and neuroimaging aspects of these. Over the years, Judy has supervised several PhD students on these lines of work. This work has been funded by several grants over the years (e.g., EFIC Grunenthal Grant, ReumaNederland, DiabetesFonds).

Description of topic

The research line Psychopharmacology in Health and Medical Psychology utilizes innovative rigorous experimental and prospective methods including neuroimaging approaches in a translational approach.

By means of controlled pharmacological interventions or cyclic variations in endogenous hormonal/neurotransmitter states, insights are gained into mind-body interactions across the lifespan.

Research focuses on the neurochemical basis of various behavioral and cognitive functions such as expectations, placebo/nocebo effects, memory, attention, psychomotor performance, and mood.

Research lines in which basic research questions and applied research approaches are used with the aim to improve health and health conditions include:

  • Pain and cognition: Deepening our understanding of the underlying mechanisms (e.g., gonadal hormones) of pain and cognition with the intention to develop preventative measures and rehabilitation programs.
  • Neurobiology of placebo and nocebo effects: Gaining insights into the underlying neurochemical basis of expectation mechanisms in the treatment of somatic complaints. The role of pharmacological agents is studied in two ways: 1) to study possible neurochemical mediators of placebo and nocebo effects (e.g., NMDA receptors) and 2) to study pharmacological learning (conditioning) processes as an example how learning processes can affect our bodily responses (e.g., ‘learned immune system’).  
  • Neurochemical basis of behavior and cognition: Studying the effects of pharmacological treatment on behavior and cognition by using brain imaging methods. As risk factors for later psychosocial problems, focus is also on the early life period and on stress. Other key topics are resilience factors and neuroplasticity of the brain.
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