Prof Barbara SAHAKIAN

Senior Scientific Advisor

Prof Barbara Sahakian retired in 2022 and has received Emeritus status with the University of Cambridge. She continues working with CLIC as a Senior Scientific Advisor.

Prof Barbara Sahakian is an Emeritus Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, an Honorary Consultant Clinic Psychologist at Addenbrooke's Hospital, a Fellow of the British Academy and the Academy of Medical Sciences, a Fellow of Clare Hall Cambridge, and a Bye-Fellow of Christ's College Cambridge.

She is particularly interested in the training of 21st century neuroscientists in neuroethics and in the engagement of the public in science. She is co-inventor of the CANTAB computerised neuropsychological tests, which are in use world-wide. She is probably best known for her research work on cognition and depression, cognitive enhancement using pharmacological treatments, neuroethics and early detection of Alzheimer's disease.

Her current programme of research, funded by the Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council, investigates the neurochemical modulation of impulsive and compulsive behaviour in neuropsychiatric disorders, such as unipolar and bipolar depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Read: IQ tests can't measure it, but cognitive flexibility is key to learning and creativity




Research Interest

Prof Sahakian's research is aimed at understanding the neural basis of cognitive, emotional and behavioural dysfunction in order to develop more effective pharmacological and psychological treatments. The focus of her lab is on early detection, differential diagnosis and proof of concept studies using cognitive enhancing drugs. This research utilises neuropsychological tests, such as the CANTAB tests, which she co-invented and a focus remains on the development of novel tests.

Current study participants include healthy volunteers and patient groups with brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder, substance abuse, depression and mania. Techniques used include psychopharmacological, neuropsychological, neuroimaging (fMRI and PET) and genetic ones. Results from recent studies of ecstasy use and cognitive enhancement using methylphenidate, modafinil and atomoxetine have led to an interest in pharmacogenomics and neuroethics.

Key Publications

Chamberlain SR, Muller U, Blackwell AD, Clark L, Robbins TW, Sahakian BJ (2006), “Neurochemical Modulation of Response Inhibition and Probabilistic Learning in Humans” Science 311(5762):861-863 Details

Turner DC, Robbins TW, Clark L, Aron AR, Dowson J, Sahakian BJ (2003), “Cognitive enhancing effects of modafinil in healthy volunteers” Psychopharmacology 165(3):260-269

Swainson R, Galton CJ, Hodges JR, Michael A, Semple J, Dunn BD, Jefferies MC, Iddon JL, Robbins TW, Sahakian BJ (2001), “Early detection and differential diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and depression with neuropsychological tasks” Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders 12:265-280


Prof Sahakian has an international reputation in the fields of cognitive psychopharmacology, neuroethics, neuropsychology, neuropsychiatry and neuroimaging. She has more than 400 publications in scientific journals and a Hirsch (h) index of 109.

Prof Sahakian co-invented the neuropsychological CANTAB and EMOTICOM tests and the Cambridge University PEAK Memory Training: Wizard game. She has contributed to neuroscience and mental health policy, including: the UK government’s Foresight Project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing (Beddington et al., Nature, 2008); the strategy for mental health for the Medical Research Council (Sahakian et al., The Lancet, 2010); and the Grand Challenges in Global Mental Health (Collins et al., Nature, 2011). She is also on the committee for the Strategy for Neuroscience and Mental Health for the Department of Health.

Prof Sahakian is a Past President of the British Association for Psychopharmacology and the International Neuroethics Society, and was a Member of the International Expert Jury for the 2017 Else Kröner-Fresenius-Stiftung Prize. In March 2017, Professor Sahakian participated in the Global Council on Brain Health meeting in Washington, DC. She has also spoken at the World Economic Forum, Davos, in 2014, is a member of the World Economic Forum on the Future of Neurotechnologies and Brain Science, and is on the clinical advisory board of the Human Brain Project.

She is co-author of Bad Moves and Sex, Lies and Brain Scans, and has co-edited The Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics.

2022 - Listed as World's Top 100 Neuroscientists by
2021 - Lifetime Achievement Award
2016 - Robert Sommer Medal for for research into schizophrenia (Joint with Prof Trevor Robbins)
2009 - Distinguished Scholars Award from the University of Pennsylvania