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Research group/lab

Molecular and Systems Epidemiology

Integrating multi-omics data from population-based studies and conducting experimental validation studies, we aim to elucidate molecular pathways underlying age-related diseases and identify potential biomarkers for their early diagnosis.

About our research group/lab

Our research

Molecular and systems epidemiology are emerging innovative fields of research in which molecular, cellular, tissue, and organism levels of function are incorporated into computational models and epidemiologic studies to identify contributors to complex diseases at multiple levels as well as their interactions.

Epidemiology has been proven valuable to identify associations between exposure and disease in populations. Yet, traditional epidemiology does so without obtaining information of the biological processes that underlie the associations. Molecular and systems epidemiology could enhance the measurement of exposure, effect, and susceptibility, and also give a fascinating insight into complex biological mechanisms, and generate novel hypotheses about disease mechanisms. This knowledge will lead to the identification of early etiologic, diagnostic, and prognostic markers of disease, but also allow us to better target preventive strategies, and yield new therapeutics for disease.

The availability of high-throughput omics data and various clinical outcomes in the population-based cohort studies has created a great opportunity for molecular epidemiologic studies to integrate different omics datasets and build a comprehensive and dynamic model of the molecular changes in complex diseases for biomarker and drug discovery.

The research in this group focuses on the identification and characterization of genetic determinants and potential biomarkers for common age-related diseases (e.g. coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and fatty liver). To this end, we integrate multi-omics data from epidemiological studies, apply advanced statistical methods (e.g. Mendelian randomization, machine learning) and conduct state-of-the-art molecular and cellular model studies. We use high-throughput omics data (incl. genomics, epi-genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics) available in the Rotterdam Study (~18,000 elderly subjects) and the Erasmus Rucphen Family study (~3,000 subjects). Moreover, we have a wide range of collaboration with several international consortia and many universities across the world, which help for replication of our findings.



Our projects

  • Conducting large-scale epigenome-wide association studies on coffee and tea consumption in the CHARGE consortium (>16000 subjects in 15 cohorts), we found DNA methylation-sites associated with coffee intake, some of which were causally linked to the risk of metabolic diseases such as fatty liver.

  • Exploring novel biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and their rates of change during ~14 years follow-up in >5,000 participants of the Rotterdam Study, we found plasma levels of NfL and amyloid-β42 proteins as potential biomarkers to assess risk of developing AD 10 years in advance in non-demented people. 

  • Leveraging data from the largest available genome-wide association study of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and performing various in-silico and in-vitro studies, we demonstrated microRNA-142 located on the 17q22 locus to be involved in the pathogenesis of AD by targeting several important Ad-related genes.

Key Publications


Within Erasmus MC

With the multidisciplinary aspects of our research, we have close collaborations with a range of clinical and biological parties within Erasmus MC including departments of Immunology, Gastroenterology, Neuroscience, Internal Medicine, and Genetic identification.

Outside of Erasmus MC

The Rotterdam Study is one of the main collaborators in several national and international consortia in the field of Molecular Epidemiology (e.g. BBMRI-NL, X-omics, and CHARGE) and the group is currently involved in numerous international multicenter projects.

Funding & Grants

  • Alzheimer Nederland, the role of non-coding RNAs in Alzheimer’s disease, Main investigator, 2022-2024.

  • Erasmus MC Fellowship, An atlas of genetic basis and disease association of microRNAs, Main Investigator, 2022-2026.

  • SOPHIA grant, A multi-centric H2020 grant for Obesity, Co-investigator, 2020-2023

  • An NIH grant for Gene-lifestyle interaction analysis, Co-investigator, 2021-2023

  • Janssen Prevention Center in Leiden, the Netherlands, Prevention Biomarkers, Co-Investigator, 2017-2020

Our team

Principle Investigator:

Mohsen Ghanbari, m.ghanbari@erasmusmc.nl


Management Assistant:

Maaike Oomens, m.oomens@erasmusmc.nl


Postdoc researchers:

Eliana Portilla Fernandez (2019-2020)

Ivana Prokic-Nedeljkovic (2019-2021)

Shahzad Ahmad (2020-2022)

Lisa van der Burgh (2022-2023)

Pooja Mandaviya (2022-2024)


PhD students:

Silvana Maas, Epigenetics and lifestyle factors, (2017-2019)

Michelle Mens, Circulatory miRNAs and age-related disorders, (2017-2021)

Xiaofang Zhang, Genetics of fatty liver disease, (2017-2022)

Irma Karabegovic, Epigenetics and lifestyle factors, (2021-2022)

Yasir Abozaid , Metabolic pathways and liver diseases, (2019-2022)

Amber Yaqub, Longevity and Alzheimer’s disease, (2019-2023)

Ziyi Xiong, Improving genetic Epi approaches, (2019-2023)

Ibrahim Ayada, Genetic of NAFLD and MAFLD, (2021-2024)

Yu Shuai, Genetic and epigenetic regulation of cancer, (2021-2025)

Sam Leonard, Immuno-omics and immune-related disorders (2022-2024)

Mina Shahisavandi, Pharmaco-metabolomics and metabolic disorders (2022-2025)


MSc students:

Meghan Murphy, Association of serum HSV titer and risk of dementia (2018-2019)

Silvana Maas, DNA methylation and smoking (2017-2019)

Irma Karabegovic, DNA methylation and coffee consumption (2017-2019)

Sam Leonard, Genetic and metabolomics of Immune markers (2021-2022)

Enping Wang, multi-omics analysis of COVID-19 (2021-2023)

Georgia Malliou, Metabolomics and vascular calcification (2022-2023)

Mina Shahisavandi, Pharmaco-metabolomics (2022-2023)