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20062023

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Personal profile

Research Biography

Publications: You can find my publications via Google Scholar

Background: I received a BSc in Psychology from the University of Leeds in 2003, and an MRC-funded MSc (2004) and PhD (2008) in Social Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, King's College London. In 2012 I moved to the University of Adelaide, and in 2016 to Flinders University as a Matthew Flinders Fellow. Here I head the Behavioural Genetic and Environmental Mechanisms (Behavioural GEMs) Lab. For current projects please see Research and Supervision in the tabs above.

Current Research:

My research applies a comprehensive biopsychosocial approach, and focuses on integrating environmental factors including social determinants of health, such as socioeconomic status and stress, with genetic predictors in a range of phenotypes: disordered eating, depression, psychosis (bipolar disorder and schizophrenia) and cognition. This work extends to understanding whether these phenotypes, and factors such as stress, also contribute to physical health outcomes such as obesity and infertility.

The aim of my work is to understand how the environment interacts with our genetics and with ourselves at the biological level, and how risk can be passed from one generation to the next.

Epigenetics provides a possible avenue by which the environment can influence how our genes are expressed. My recent research investigates these variations in behaviour and psychological disorders, working to identify how environmental factors can influence genetic risk and subsequent outcomes. This includes identification and analysis of polygenic risk, DNA methylation and small RNAs associated with disease risk/protective factors as well as the behaviour or disease.

Research Interests

Behavioural Genetic and Environmental Mechanisms (Behavioural GEMs) Lab:
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Understanding genomic and environmental risk / protective mechanisms in behaviour, Including:

  1. Role of childhood maltreatment, life stress, and exercise in psychological disorder (e.g. depression, psychosis), and cognition: gene-environment interaction, and epigenetic regulation (DNA methylation and small RNAs) that impact on risk/protection for a disorder, or cognitive outcomes.
  2. Behavioural genomics, in particular eating disorders, depression, and psychosis (schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) (GWAS and sequencing).
  3. Understanding (epi)genetic and environmental impact within context of behavior, in particular immunity / inflammation (i.e. immunogenetics and proteomics), and comorbid physical illness.

Our research focuses on incorporating environmental factors (i.e. childhood maltreatment), with genetic and epigenetic analyses in eating disorders, depression, and psychosis (bipolar disorder and schizophrenia), and in longitudinal population cohorts. Our work aims to understand how the environment interacts with our genes at the biological level. Epigenetics provides a possible avenue by which the environment can interact with our genome. We investigate DNA methylation and small RNAs associated with disease risk/protective factors as well as the disease, and their functional impact on gene-expression, protein levels, and/or neuroimaging.

Supervised Students Successes

  • Jun 2016 Kaitlin Harkess - Clinical Psyc PhD
  • Jun 2016 Kaitlin Harkess - Dean’s Commendation for Doctoral Thesis
  • Oct 2013 Kaitlin Harkess - Australian and New Zealand Three-Minute Thesis Competition National Finalist

Supervision

  • Registered

Research Areas

  • Clinical psychology
  • Psychology

Supervisory Interests

  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Epigenetics
  • Genetics
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Trauma
  • Stress
  • Eating disorders

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