|Nelson Biological Laboratory, Rutgers University 145 Bevier Road Piscataway, NJ, 08854|
The focus of my research is on understanding the relationship between neurological and psychiatric disorders. Individuals with a neurological disorder (e.g., Tourette disorder, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease), often also have a psychiatric disorder (e.g., depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder). The causes for this relationship remain unclear. Using genetic information, the goal of my research is to understand the relationship and, to test the hypothesis that, in many conditions, the relationship is due, in part, to a shared genetic susceptibility. Identifying the causes for the relationship will help earlier identification of individuals at high risk for both disorders and allow for earlier and more effective interventions.
We are investigating genetics of Tourette’s Disorder (TD), other chronic tic disorders (CTDs) and associated disorders. TD is a developmental neuropsychiatric syndrome characterized by persistent vocal and motor tics. Family studies consistently show that CTDs are familial. Heritability studies clearly indicate a genetic contribution to the etiology of CTDs.
Despite long-standing interest in the genetic contribution to CTDs and some initial positive findings, replicable susceptibility alleles have thus far remained elusive. Although there have been some initial positive findings, identification of replicable susceptibility alleles has thus far remained elusive. In 2007, we established the New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome Sharing Repository, a sharing resource of clinical, biomaterial, and genetic data of TD probands and their families. In 2011, we received NIMH funding to establish the Tourette International Collaborative Genetics (TIC Genetics). TIC Genetics brings together a team of clinicians, geneticists, and statistical geneticists from 23 sites in the US, Europe, and Asia. The goal TIC Genetics is to leverage state-of-the-art genetic technologies to identify genetic factors that play a role in causing CTDs and associated disorders.
I am also investigating the genetic relationship between epilepsy and depression. Depression is the most common comorbid condition in epilepsy, affecting between 20-55% of patients with refractory epilepsy and 3-9% of patients with well-controlled seizures. The cause of this comorbidity is unknown. We are conducting a series of genetic epidemiologic studies to test the hypothesis that the comorbidity is due, in part, to a shared genetic susceptibility.
Depression is the most common non-motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease (PD). It often precedes the onset of the motor symptoms and impact the quality of life of individuals with PD. In collaboration with the New York Beth Israel Medical Center and Columbia University Medical Center in NYC, we are investigating various clinical manifestations, including psychiatric symptoms, in a genetic form of PD.
I am the Director of the Genetic Counseling Certificate Program (GCCP). The undergraduate GCCP program is intended for students interested in applying to graduate schools in Genetic Counseling. The goal of this program is to provide students with guidance and relevant experience that will help prepare students for graduate school applications. Specifically, the program provides students with an understanding of genetic counseling career, ensuring that students understand course prerequisites for various masters-level programs, and facilitating a short rotation with Genetic Counselor.
I serve on the leadership board of the fully- accredited graduate program in genetic counseling at Rutgers University, The Genetic Counseling Master's Program (GCMP) and a fellow of the American Psychopathological Association.