Session Two: Genetics of mental illness

Elizabeth Atkinson, Baylor College of Medicine

Dr. Elizabeth Atkinson (Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular and Human Genetics, Baylor College of Medicine) is a population and statistical geneticist working towards increased inclusion of diverse ancestry participants in genomics. She received her PhD from Washington University in St. Louis and conducted an NIH IRACDA fellowship at Stony Brook University followed by NIMH K01-funded postdoctoral training at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute. Her work is centered around neuropsychiatric traits with particular focus on admixed American populations and groups of African descent, though many of her tools are broadly applicable across phenotypes and populations. She recently developed the Tractor method to allow for the inclusion of admixed individuals in GWAS. She also works on better understanding the demographic and evolutionary history of diverse human groups, including overturning the textbook story regarding the evolution of the FOXP2 language gene.

Hilary Finucane, Broad Institute

Hilary Finucane is an associated scientist in the Program in Medical and Population Genetics at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and an associate member of the Genetics Program at the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research. Her research group develops and applies new statistical and computational methods for analyzing biological data. The group’s main focus is on integrating genetic data about disease with molecular data about cell types and biological processes to learn about the causes of disease.

Finucane earned her Ph.D. in applied math from the Department of Mathematics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, supported by a Hertz Foundation Fellowship. Her research was in statistical genetics, advised by Alkes Price at the Harvard School of Public Health. Finucane also holds a M.Sc. in theoretical computer science from the Weizmann Institute of Science and a B.A. in math from Harvard. She is a recipient of the National Institutes of Health Director’s Early Independence Award.

Alicia R. Martin, MGH

Alicia R. Martin, Ph.D., is an Instructor in Investigation at the Analytic & Translational Genetics Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, an Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and an Associated Scientist at the Broad Institute affiliated with the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research and the Medical and Population Genetics Program. As a population and statistical geneticist, her research examines the role of human history in shaping global genetic and phenotypic diversity. Given vast Eurocentric study biases, she investigates the generalizability of knowledge gained from large-scale genetic studies across globally diverse populations. She is particularly focused on ensuring that the translation of genetic technologies via polygenic risk does not exacerbate health disparities induced by these study biases. Towards this end, she is also developing statistical methods and resources for multi-ethnic studies and underrepresented populations. She earned her PhD in genetics and MS in biomedical informatics from Stanford University (mentored by Dr. Carlos Bustamante), and received postdoctoral training (mentored by Dr. Mark Daly) at MGH and the Broad Institute.

Session Three: Therapeutic mechanisms and disease biomarkers

Kevin S. Jones, University of Michigan Medical School 

Kevin S. Jones, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Michigan Medical School. His research interests include the neurophysiology and neuropharmacology of mental health disorders. Dr. Jones holds a PhD in Neuropharmacology from Duke University. His current works focuses on discovering new medicines for the treating of post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression and schizophrenia. Dr. Jones’ work has appeared in many journals including Neuron, The Journal of Neuroscience, the International Journal of Comparative Psychology, and others. Dr. Jones’ past and current affiliations include, the Instituto Ramon y Cajal, in Madrid, Spain; Johns Hopkins University Medical School, College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific, University of Cincinnati, Pomona College and Charles Drew University Medical School. He is a member of the Society for Neuroscience, and is the immediate Past-President of the DC metro chapter of the Society of Neuroscience. He currently serves as the chair of the Diversity in Neuroscience Sub-Committee of the SfN Professional Development Committee. He is a member of the Executive Committee of Neuropharmacology Division of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. In addition to managing his research team, Dr. Jones is also an award-winning instructor who enjoys teaching both undergraduate and graduate students. In his spare time he enjoys spending time with his family and currently coaching his two sons’ football teams.

Morgan Sheng, Broad Institute

Morgan Sheng is a core institute member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, where he serves as co-director of the Broad’s Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research. He is also a professor of neuroscience in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and an affiliate of both the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.

From 2001 to 2008, Sheng was the Menicon Professor of Neuroscience at MIT, as well as an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. From 2008 to 2019, Sheng was vice-president of neuroscience at Genentech, a leading biotech company, where he led research and drug discovery efforts for major diseases of the nervous system. His research at Genentech focused on human genetics and pathogenic mechanisms of neurodegenerative disease, particularly Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Sheng is a fellow of the Royal Society (UK), a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (UK), a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and honorary fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He has served on the editorial boards of Neuron, Journal of Neuroscience, and Current Opinions in Neurobiology. A past recipient of the Fondation Ipsen Prize in Neuronal Plasticity and the Young Investigator Award of the Society for Neuroscience, Sheng is author of more than 200 peer-reviewed publications focused on the molecular mechanisms underlying the structure and plasticity of synapses and the molecular-cell biology of neurodegeneration.

Sheng received a B.A. (1st class honors) from Oxford University and obtained his medical degree and training at London University. His Ph.D. thesis was completed at Harvard Medical School in the lab of Michael Greenberg. Following postdoctoral research in the lab of Lily Jan at the University of California, San Francisco, Sheng served as a faculty member in the Department of Neurobiology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School (1994-2001) before joining MIT (2001-2008).

Paul F. Worley, Johns Hopkins

Dr. Paul F. Worley is a professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. An expert in the molecular basis of specific forms of long-term learning and memory, Dr. Worley serves on the faculty of the Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences and as an associated investigator with the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

Dr. Worley’s laboratory focuses on a class of proteins found at the interfaces of connecting neurons (synapses) that ramp up as the neurons engage in information processing and storage. These proteins directly modify the strength of the signals sent between neurons and are essential for information storage.

Recent work reveals how molecules that regulate reward-signaling neuronal responses (such as dopamine) can selectively strengthen communication across synapses – and implicates this process in addiction.

Dr. Worley’s research also has clinical potential in the treatment of patients with degenerative memory conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.