The Washington University Program in Psychedelic Research (PiPeR) is a partnership between the WUSM Healthy Mind Lab and Neuroimaging Labs (NIL), leveraging world-class expertise in clinical trial design, human neuroimaging, and pre-clinical science to understand how psychedelic medicines change the human brain. Our research will lead to the next generation of safer and more effective treatments for psychiatric illness. 

Using high-resolution resting fMRI to define individualized brain areas and networks. On the left, a parcellation algorithm defines defines boundaries in a single subjects brain, on the right, the resulting areas are clustered into brain networks.

The Neuroimaging Labs at WU have been a world leader in brain mapping research for over 30 years. WU was the site of the first cyclotron developed for medical PET imaging research and the first PET scanners. WU Neuroimaging Labs developed resting state fcMRI as a tool for brain network mapping, led the Human Connectome Project, and most recently developed Precision Functional Mapping – using extended imaging sessions, novel acquisition methods, and individual connectome analysis to map brain networks in high resolution at the individual level. Precision Functional Mapping, by map brain networks at the individual level, has observed effect sizes 500% larger than traditional approaches, leading to paradigm shift in brain imaging science.

Our inter-discplinary human research team includes world-renowned experts in neuroscience, functional and molecular neuroimaging, neuropsychopharmacology and precision clinical trials, and spans the translational spectrum from preclinical animal studies to randomized clinical studies in young adults and adults. Unraveling how psychedelic medicines can change the lives of individuals suffering with neuropsychiatric conditions requires not only the right combination of expertise, technology, and infrastructure, but also experience working with regulatory agencies and to ensure safety and adherences to licensing and reporting requirements for human subjects research.

We are the only clinical research group in the state of Missouri and one of less than 30 academic centers in the US with the capability to conduct clinical research safely and legally with schedule 1 medications like psilocybin. Thus, our program includes a focus on training and career development of physician-scientists in all stages of training at WUSM, from undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree programs in neuroscience, neuroradiology, and psychiatry.

Plasticity Markers

A major focus of our research is using surrogate markers to study efficacy and mechanism of rapid antidepressants. In particular, measurement of neurotrophic effects in the human brain serves as a valuable biomarker. Measurement of plasticity markers in the human brain allows us to understand how neurotrophic processed observed at the molecular and cellular level scale to the network level and connect to cognition, behavior, and mood. It may also aid in assessing efficacy and titrating dose and frequency of future treatments.  We utilize non-invasive and minimally invasive tools at the cutting edge of neuroscience to accomplish this in humans.