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Young researcher wins award for pioneering research that could help develop new treatments for PTSD

Charlotte, who is a member of Cambridge Children’s Young Adult Forum, suffered PTSD following serious health challenges. This has inspired her research project into new treatments for people whose lives are affected by a traumatic experience.

A young woman with shoulder length fair hair and a big smile
Charlotte is doing a master's degree at the University of Cambridge

Twenty-four-year-old Charlotte Rye was treated for anorexia at the age of 17. Her experiences caused her to develop PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), which she believes may have been caused by her total lack of control and being shut off from the outside world.

What's important is that children or young people feel they have a sense of agency and that's something that I didn't have. I didn't know what was going on. I didn't know why things were happening.

Charlotte Rye

As a member of Cambridge Children’s Young Adult Forum, Charlotte is drawing on her experiences to help us shape our plans for the East of England’s first specialist children’s hospital. But those experiences are also influencing her early career in medical research.

Charlotte is doing a master’s degree at the University of Cambridge in Basic and Translational Neuroscience. Her research project is looking at the differences between the brains of those who are susceptible to PTSD versus those who are resilient. From this, she and the team will look to develop new forms of treatment.

“We know that out of those who experience a traumatic event, not everyone will go on to develop PTSD. So why is that the case? Are there underlying differences in the brain that make people susceptible?” explains Charlotte.

Currently, Charlotte’s research is focused on adult trauma, but she hopes this work will one day be able to help children, too.

Evidence suggests that one in three children who have an extended stay in hospital will develop PTSD-like symptoms, many more than adults.

Charlotte Rye
A young woman receiving an award from a woman at Queen's College
Charlotte receiving the Postgraduate poster prize at the Cambridge Neuroscience Seminar

Charlotte recently attended the Cambridge Neuroscience Seminar (opens in a new tab) to deliver a ‘data blitz’ presentation on her research and a poster of the current results. This led her to be awarded the Postgraduate poster prize which recognises the work of promising early career researchers in the field of neuroscience. She has also received a scholarship to attend the 35th Boston International Trauma Conference in May.

Charlotte’s supervisor, Professor Amy Milton from the Cambridge MiND Lab (opens in a new tab), said she was incredibly proud that her research had been recognised in this way.

Charlotte's determination to use her lived experience of PTSD to drive to develop better models, giving us a better understanding of who will, and who will not, develop PTSD following trauma, is inspirational.

Professor Amy Milton, Cambridge MiND Lab

Currently people who are treated for PTSD are given exposure therapy, where a safe memory is created to compete with the traumatic memory. However, Charlotte says this only works in about half of patients because the old trauma memory is still there. The researchers are asking the question – what if you could erase that memory?

“When you tell people about it, there are obviously a lot of ethical considerations,” explains Charlotte, “But we're not actually changing your knowledge of the event at all. We're just trying to remove the emotional component. When you look at it like that, it’s a lot less frightening.”

A teenager in a hospital bed with four members of a boy band, McFly, standing beside her. They are all smiling
The boy band McFly visited Charlotte in hospital after she had surgery for her broken spine

Charlotte was determined to pursue a career in scientific research, despite the setbacks of her childhood. In 2012, Charlotte was diagnosed with scoliosis, then broke her back in two places a year later, needing two surgeries. She believes these may have caused her subsequent issues with body image.

Cambridge Children’s Hospital will be unique in treating mental and physical health together under the same roof, something Charlotte believes would have made a huge difference to her, both in the short and long term.

“When I was hospitalised for my anorexia, I was still having issues with my back. I was supposed to be doing physiotherapy, but I wasn’t allowed to exercise, so my back got worse,” says Charlotte.

Even now I am dealing with the consequences of not having physical healthcare in the same place as my mental health care. For me, having everything under one roof makes complete sense. We can’t separate the body from the mind. I hope this new hospital will make things better.

Charlotte Rye, reflecting on how integrated care would have helped her
A young woman in a cambridge university lab coat in a lab, giving thumbs up
Charlotte is pursuing her dream career in scientific research
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