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Polygenic and environmental markers of mental health status in New Zealand children

Project Description

The successful applicant will work on a cross-faculty project investigating the biological and environmental pathways underpinning childhood depression and anxiety symptoms. The project is led by Professor Karen Waldie (School of Psychology, Faculty of Sciences, University of Auckland) and will be embedded within the established longitudinal birth cohort, Growing Up in New Zealand (n=6853). The aim of the project is to assess how intrauterine markers, perinatal health indicators and early sociodemographic and psychological factors interact with polygenic risk scores to exert an influence on child mental health.

The PhD student will:
(1) create a Polygenic Risk Score (PRS). Information from alleles identified in GWAS will be collapsed into a PRS. In this way, the cumulative data from across thousands of possible variants can be turned into a single value representing a child’s overall genetic risk for a disorder;
(2) use environmental and lifestyle data from multiple sources and developmental periods to create cumulative indices. We will sum the number of adverse events for each child to create a cumulative index for different timings and type of marker;
(3) analyse PRS by environment interaction models. We will investigate whether multiple indicators of early life adversity moderate the influence of PRS on mood symptoms in children.

The successful PhD applicant will create a polygenic risk score (PRS) for the cohort based on previously published GWAS data and will undertake advanced statistical techniques to determine whether multiple indicators of early life adversity moderate the influence of PRS on mood symptoms in children. Therefore a strong genetic and statistical background is needed for this project along with a passion to better understand childhood mental health.

Funding Notes

This Marsden-funded PhD Scholarship including tuition fees and a tax-free stipend is available at the University of Auckland in Auckland, New Zealand starting March 2020 or as soon as possible afterwards for a period of three years.

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