Our Functional Epidemiology lab is based within the Seaver Autism Center at the Department of Psychiatry, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
The goal of our research is to better understand why certain parental and early-life factors are associated with a risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in children – leading to better understanding of the causal mechanisms underlying the epidemiological associations, identification of modifiable risk factors for these disorders, and improved prevention and treatments.
We use insights from epidemiology, epigenetics and genetics in order to expose the intricate relationships between children’s earliest environments and their long-term neurodevelopmental outcomes.
We are currently looking for postdocs to join our team! If you’re interested, please contact Dr. Janecka (firstname.lastname@example.org) for informal enquiries.
While the scope of the research done in the lab represents a diverse collection of research topics and methods, most of the projects fall into one of the two areas:
Parental health and ASD:
We investigate how a broad range of parental and early-life factors can affect brain development, and impact risk of neurodevelopmental disorders. Our lab integrates epidemiological, genetic, epigenetic and RNA-seq data to develop new approaches to studying the effects of factors like parental age at conception, use of medication in pregnancy, and parental health – with the goal of delineating the mechanisms through which these factors can impact child’s development.
Epigenetic contributions to neurodevelopment:
Although much has been learnt about the role of rare genetic variation in neurodevelopmental disorders, still relatively little is known about analogous, rare epigenetic variation. Our lab studies these rare epigenetic events – and their relation with both genetic and environmental factors – in order to better understand the molecular underpinnings of heterogenous pathways to ASD.
Ayooluwa Akinkunmi is a freshman at Haverford College. In the FunEpi lab she is exploring the potential role of clinician bias in the over-diagnosis of schizophrenia in African Americans.
Dr. Artemis Briasouli
In the FunEpi lab Artemis’s aim is to employ Mendelian Randomization methods to interrogate potential causal effects of abnormal gestational length on autism spectrum disorder, as well as other neurodevelopmental disorders
Dr. Christine Søholm Hansen
In the FunEpi lab, Christine focus is on epigenetic mechanisms of prenatal development leading towards adult morbidity in psychiatry, leveraging family cohorts.
Dr. Magdalena Janecka
Dr. Janecka is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry in 2019, focusing on better understanding of the causal mechanisms underlying epidemiological associations between early-life exposures and neurodevelopmental disorders.
Dr. Vahe Khachadourian
In the FunEpi lab, Vahe’s main interest lies in advanced epidemiologic and statistical methods, with an emphasis on causal inference using data from observational studies.
Nina Zaks is pursuing a MS in Epidemiology with the goal of gaining knowledge in advanced quantitative methods to inform decisions in public health. In the FunEpi lab, Nina is studying psychiatric morbidities associated with female reproductive disorders.
James Gluck is a current junior at Brown University majoring in Neuroscience. In the FuncEpi lab, he is studying the epivariations associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Schizophrenia.
Emma Lin is a current junior at Hunter College High School in New York City. In the FunEpi lab, she is exploring the risk factors for pregnancy, birth and early-life adversity.
Elah Wilson is a current junior at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. In the FunEpi lab, she is exploring the association between parental mental illness and birth complications.
Mindich Child Health and Development Institute Pilot Award
Gene expression in endocervix during pregnancy – novel biomarkers of neonatal outcomes (co-PI: Eiland, MD, FAAP; Turro, PhD)
Neonatal adversity is associated with a host of short- and long-term health complications. Although these complications may be highly debilitating, and affect all body systems, our understanding of the mechanisms affecting neonatal adversity, and ability to predict it early in pregnancy, remain limited. Our project will address this knowledge gap by exploring the potential of using gene expression data from endocervical samples collected during routine examination of pregnant women. We will assess transcript abundance using RNA-seq, allowing us to quantify both coding and non-coding populations of RNAs. We will then test the associations between gene expression – both at a single RNA, and pathway levels – and subsequent birth outcomes (including gestational age and size for gestational age; APGAR score; NICU admission). The availability of rich demographic and health information for all women in the sample will further allow us to adjust for a host of maternal factors that could contribute to the observed associations.
Maternal health in pregnancy and autism risk – genetic and non-genetic mechanisms
As ASD likely arises early in prenatal development, considerable efforts in identifying modifiable risk factors for the disorder have focused on maternal exposures in pregnancy. Some of those studies have shown higher rates of ASD among children of women with e.g. diabetes, depression or recurrent infections. However, (1) women experience many other conditions in pregnancy, most of which have not been studied in the context of offspring ASD risk; and (2) the mechanisms underlying the association between maternal diagnoses and ASD remain unknown. While placental permeability to multiple factors in maternal circulation renders direct effects of maternal health on fetus plausible, this explanation has not been rigorously evaluated against the possibility that both maternal diagnosis and child’s ASD are caused by overlapping genetic factors, transmitted from mother to the child. In response, the key objectives of our proposal are to (1) test the associations between maternal health and ASD systematically, across the full spectrum of maternal diagnoses, and accounting for their correlation, and (2) elucidate the genetic and/or non-genetic mechanisms underlying these associations.
Brain and Behavior Research Foundation
The Discovery and Functional Significance of Rare Epimutations in Autism Spectrum Disorder
The goal of this project is to understand the contribution of rare variation in DNA methylation (DNAm), “epimutations”, to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Our lab uses recently developed methods for detecting DNAm outliers across the genome, and applies them to the DNAm data obtained from blood samples collected at birth from the MINERvA-iPSYCH consortium. This project will allow us to identify rare alterations in the DNAm profiles of ASD cases, and thus help us better understand the heterogeneous pathways to ASD. Linking our findings with the underlying exome sequence, and a number of bioinformatic resources, will have a potential to yield new insights into the origins and consequences of DNAm dysregulation in ASD.
2019 NARSAD Young Investigator Award
2016 Seaver Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship
2014 Travel Award, The Experimental Psychology Society
2013 Travel Award, International Behavioral and Neural Genetics Society
2011 Medical Research Council Studentship
We are currently seeking postdoctoral fellows, with a strong quantitative background and interest in neurodevelopmental disorders, to join our friendly and inclusive group. Broad project themes will include, but will not be restricted to:
– Interrogation of the effects of parental health and medication use in the prenatal period on the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in offspring; methods will include: novel approaches to analyze epidemiological data that generate stronger inference of underlying causality; interrogating genetic correlations between parental conditions and neurodevelopmental disorders; Mendelian randomization; analysis of epigenetic alterations as mediators between the environmental/genetic influences underlying parental conditions and neurodevelopmental disorders.
– Investigating the causal contribution of early-life complications (related to birth and/or pregnancy) in neurodevelopmetal disorders; methods will include: analysis of EHR (lab, medication, diagnoses), gene expression, epidemiological and epigenetic data; investigating shared genetic factors underlying the relevant phenotypes; Mendelian randomization;
Fellows will be encouraged to, and supported in, developing independent ideas and projects that fit within the broad scientific goals of the lab. The post has dedicated funds for additional training conducive to the fellow’s scientific development and progression of the study goals.
Interested candidates are invited to submit a CV to:
Magdalena Janecka, Ph.D
For informal enquiries, please contact email@example.com