Olivia Grech, University of Birmingham

Understanding headache in Idiopathic intracranial hypertension (PhD studentship)

Olivia Grech was awarded a Brain Research UK PhD studentship in 2019 to enable her to pursue research into the disabling headache disorder Idiopathic intracranial hypertension


Olivia completed an MRes in Biomedical Sciences and Translational Medicine at the University of Liverpool in 2018, and has since worked as a research associate at the University of Birmingham, developing further expertise in a wide range of key experimental techniques.

To undertake her PhD project, Olivia will remain at the University of Birmingham, joining one of the UK's leading headache research labs under the supervision of Dr Alex Sinclair.

Olivia's PhD project is a perfect fit with her ambition to work in the field of headache and neuroscience, and her experience to date, combined with the excellent training opportunities, resources and rich mix of clinicians and basic scientists working in the lab, will help ensure successful completion of the project, and her PhD.

About Idiopathic intracranial hypertension

Idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH) is a neurological condition defined by increased intracranial pressure (ICP) around the brain, without the presence of a condition such as a brain tumour or hydrocephalus. Whilst the cause of IIH is not known, it is linked to body-weight. The majority of patients are overweight women.

IIH causes debilitating headaches in 95% of those affected, and visual loss in 25%.

The burden of IIH has increased dramatically over recent decades, in line with the global epidemic of obesity. Yet the disease has been overlooked for decades, and improving care for this patient group has been hindered by a crucial gap in knowledge concerning the underlying disease mechanisms.

Although there are some drugs that can reduce ICP, these have a number of side effects that make them hard for patients to tolerate.

Understanding the mechanisms of IIH

In her PhD project, Olivia is setting out to understand the mechanisms underlying headache in IIH. She will use a sophisticated mouse model, originally developed by collaborators in the US, to study a fundamental feature of headache, known as cortical spreading depression (CSD). She will then evaluate how existing drugs can modify CSD.

She will be based in the Metabolic Neurology Research Laboratory at the University of Birmingham, under the supervision of Dr Alex Sinclair and Professor Gareth Lavery - both leading experts in this field of research. 


There is huge unmet need among this group of patients, who suffer debilitating headaches and risk of blindness. 

These studies by Olivia will provide the first insight into headache mechanisms in the setting of raised brain pressure, and how existing drugs can modify these mechanisms. This will provide evidence for translation into future IIH headache therapies. 

Equally important, through this PhD studentship, we are nurturing the development of a promising young researcher who we hope will go on to develop a long and illustrious career in this important field.

Related research projects

Headache is one of our current priority research areas, reflecting the large unmet need in this area. We want to fund research that will help us to understand the underlying causes and mechanisms of headache and facial pain, and help advance diagnosis and treatment.

Other research projects currently funded under this theme include: