My research concerns biological factors associated with child and adolescent mental health. Specifically, I lead the Biological Psychopathology research group within the Generation R Study, which has three key aims.
First, to identify both ‘risk’ and ‘protective’ genetic influences on mental health we want to understand the genetic structure of common child psychiatric problems.
Second, we examine interactions between children’s genetic makeup and their environment. This can help us understand why children with a similar genetic profile can differ in their mental health, and conversely, how children who experience similar stressful life events can react in very different ways to them. Our third aim is to identify the biological mechanisms through which genetic and environmental factors jointly shape children’s brain development and mental health.
To address this, we investigate a wide range of biological factors, including epigenetic regulation, the immune system and inflammation, the gut microbiome, and hormonal function. Together, a better understanding of genetic and biological influences can help us devise better strategies for the assessment, prevention and treatment of child and adolescent psychiatric problems.
Education and career
I trained as a developmental psychopathologist specializing on child behavioral problems, obtaining first a BSc in Psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London, and then a MSc in Forensic Psychology at the University of Surrey. In 2013, I completed a PhD at University College London, where I examined the impact of childhood trauma on cognitive, emotional and behavioral functions. Through this work, I became increasingly interested in how early life experiences 'get under the skin', influencing children's biology in a way that increases risk for developing psychiatric problems later in life.
As a result, I moved into the field of biological psychiatry during my time as a postdoctoral researcher and ESRC research fellow based at King's College London. Here I worked with high-risk populations as well as large scale epidemiological birth-cohorts to study the role of epigenetics and other biological factors in child mental health. In 2018 I started working as a scientific researcher in the department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Erasmus MC Sophia Children’s Hospital and as team leader for Biological Psychopathology research in the Generation R Study.