Paediatric Brain Injury (pTBI) Research

Members of this group investigate various areas of pediatric neuropsychology including pediatric traumatic brain injury (pTBI) and cognitive rehabilitation, HIV related neuropsychological impairment, ADHD and intraindividual variability. Our projects are geared at investigating the nature of these various pediatric neuropsychological research areas within the South African context while also contributing to the growing knowledge base of these global phenomena.

Members of this group include: Leigh Schrieff-Elson (PhD; Lecturer; Team leader), Mareli Fisher (Clinical psychologist; PhD candidate), Bjorn Christ (PhD candidate), Aimee Dollman (MA in Clinical Neuropsychology), Charity Oduro (M. Soc. Sci); Ju-Reyn Ockhuizen (MA in Clinical Neuropsychology); Aqeela Mahomed (MA in Clinical Neuropsychology); Tali Lanesman (MA in Clinical Neuropsychology); Nyasha Mandioma (Hons); and Pieter Erasmus (Hons).

About our group members

Dr. Leigh Schrieff-Elson is a lecturer in the Department of Psychology at UCT. Her research and teaching are primarily in pTBI and cognitive rehabilitation with children. In her doctoral research, supervised by A/Prof. Kevin G. F. Thomas, she investigated severe pediatric traumatic brain injury in South Africa in three studies: A demographic profile of admissions to the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, a brain oxygenation and neuropsychological outcomes study, and an attention-training intervention study.

The first two studies were conducted in collaboration with Prof. Anthony Figaji, Head of the Pediatric Neurosurgery Unit at The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. Members of this division undertake advanced research on pTBI and have published extensively on this topic.
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Leigh hopes to expand on her doctoral research especially in the area of cognitive rehabilitation strategies. Her long-term goal is to evaluate a range of neuropsychological interventions for use in South Africa, where services such as these (especially for children from low socio-economic status backgrounds) are limited.

Leigh also supervises projects focused on the neuropsychology of HIV infection in children.

She has also previously done some research in Social Psychology, specifically, contact theory and intergroup relations.

Funding: The AW Mellon Foundation, The National Research Foundation (NRF), and the University of Cape Town’s University Research Committee (URC).

Mareli Fischer is a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at UCT. She has also completed an MA in Clinical Psychology at Stellenbosch University and an M.Soc.Sci in Research psychology at UCT.She is currently registered as a Clinical Psychologist  (PS0117811). The focus of her doctoral dissertation is on South African children with ADHD: Investigating functional impairment, designing and evaluating an intervention.

Supervisor:  A/Prof. Kevin G. F. Thomas. Funding: NRF Innovation Award Scholarship and the UCT Doctoral Scholarship. Principle investigator: Mareli Fisher

Bjorn Christ is a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at UCT. His current project/thesis focuses on intra individual variability (IIV) in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The study will attempt to plot a trajectory of dementia-related cognitive decline using measures of IIV. IIV, also referred to as within-person variability, measures the fluctuation or inconsistency in performance on a cognitive task administered multiple times over various time scales. Increased performance fluctuation naturally occurs during the earlier and later stages of human development and may be a signal of potential change to a different level of cognitive functioning. IIV has also consistently been shown to be a marker of a compromised neurological system within a range of both pediatric and adult clinical populations. The study will explore the utility of IIV as a marker of longitudinal change and will investigate the diagnostic and the prognostic value of applying the measure to Alzheimer’s related cognitive decline. Particular emphasis will also be placed on comparing various emerging measures of intraindividual change. The study will be part of a larger study investigating the effects of stress and inflammation on AD.

Supervisor:  A/Prof. Kevin G. F. Thomas. Co-Supervisor: Dr. Marc Combrinck. Funding: The larger research project is funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) of South Africa; Bjorn’s doctorate is funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the UCT Doctoral Scholarship. Principle investigator: Bjorn Christ

Charity Oduro is an M. Soc. Sci student in the Department of Psychology at UCT.Her research is focused on attentional functioning in HIV-infected children. The research is divided into three studies. Study 1 compares the performance of a combined  (HAART-treated and HAART-naïve) HIV sample to a control group. In study 2 the HIV sample is divided into a HAART- treated and HAART-naive group and the performances of the 2 HIV groups are compared to each other as well to a control group.In the study 3 the HAART-treated sample is divided into a encephalopathy group and a non-encephalopathy group and performances of the two groups are compared. The aim of the research was to investigate the attention function of HIV-infected children in the three studies and differentiate the degree to which different modes of attention might be impaired. Charity’s project is part of a larger research project aimed at correlating abnormalities in the brain structure of heart-naive and heart-treated children through the use of diffusion tensor imaging with their neurocognitive and behavioural profiles.

Supervisor: Dr. Leigh Schrieff-Elson. Funding: The larger study is funded by the National Institutes of Health; Charity’s MA is funded by the KW Johnston Research Scholar Fund, The University of Cape Town and the NRF. Principle investigator: Dr. Jackie Hoare


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