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I am a psychiatric geneticist who works on the genetics of affective (mood) disorders, psychosis and eating disorders. I have recently begun new research into eating disorders, leading the academic work of the Charlotte’s Helix project [www.charlotteshelix.net]. We will be focusing on creating an anorexia genomics and biomarkers biobank for the UK.
In my opinion, one of the most important goals for research is to discover the biological basis of common psychiatric disorders, which will allow better drug discovery and biomarker studies in mental health. Because someone’s DNA sequence does not change after diagnosis or treatment, genetics is often the best approach for this. IoPPN is heavily involved in a number of international genetic consortia which are driving the field of psychiatric genetics forward at a faster pace than ever before, with more than 200 variants for common psychiatric disorders recently discovered.
Within one of these consortia - the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (PGC) - I have done substantial work on major depressive disorder. We are now finally finding genetic variants related to this disorder, thanks to a massive increase in sample size - we're now working with more than 40,000 cases and 100,000 controls. I also chair (with my close collaborator Cindy Bulik) the PGC Anorexia and Eating Disorders group, where we are beginning to find genetic hits for Anorexia nervosa, the most lethal psychiatric disorder.
Another of my main research interests is uncovering biological pathways using large scale genetic data, work which I undertake as chair of the PGC Network and Pathway Analysis group (with Peter Holmans). We recently analysed genetic data from more than 60,000 people across 5 major psychiatric disorders, finding strong evidence for the importance of immune processes and histone methylation (part of the gene regulation process which allows different cells to express different genes) in the aetiology of these disorders.
2011 Senior Lecturer, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK
2007 Postdoctoral Research Fellow with Status of Lecturer, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK
2004 MRC Bioinformatics Training Fellow, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK
2007 Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK
2000 Sim Research Fellow in Pharmacogenetics of Affective Disorders, Royal College of Physicians (Edin.), University of Aberdeen and Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK
PhD Schizophrenia Genetics and DNA Pooling, University of Aberdeen, UK
MSc Medical Molecular Genetics, University of Aberdeen, UK
BSc Industrial Biochemistry, University of Limerick, Ireland"
I am theme lead for both the BioResource and Biomarkers & Genomics themes at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley (SLaM) NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London.
I lead Bioresource (biobanking) activities at the BRC and IoPPN. BioResource is a biobank - a repository of biological samples for medical research - whose participants can be contacted to take part in studies, and whose samples can used to study the molecular basis of psychiatric and neurological disorders. Our goal is to collect samples from 50,000 SLaM and King’s Health Partners patients over the next five years. If we can do this, we stand a very good chance of making discoveries that will improve the quality of life for patients. I also run a genomics and laboratory core for Mental Health in laboratories at the MRC Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry (SGDP) Centre, managing a team of postdocs, lab staff and collection staff (24 members).
For the BRC BioResource and Biomarker and Genomics programmes, I and my group have established a Genomics and Biomarker core facility at SGDP which runs more than 800 samples per week on microarrays, and has recently been supported by the Maudsley Charity for the purchase of blood processing automation. We have a large network of collaborators, both in our genomics work (such as Tim Spector, Michael Simpson, Ammar Al-Chalabi, Cathryn Lewis, Leonard van den Berg, Cindy Bulik) as well as in our BioResource work, Robin Murray, Mathew Hotopf, Marta Di Forti, Deb Pal, Fiona Gaughran, James MacCabe, Alice Edgerton and Alan Young.
We are the only mental health trust contributing to Genomics England's 100,000 genomes project, and we are members of the South London Genomics Medicine Centre. I lead our participation in this revolutionary project, which aims to broaden access to the latest genomics medicine for SLaM patients.