Research topic: Using Big Genetic Data to Identify Immune Targets that will Advance Treatment Development in Schizophrenia
Jennie Pouget has always been interested in human behavior, and is completing her MD/PhD at U of T. Her research interests are in the field of mental health, with a focus on understanding the biological underpinnings of psychiatric disease. In her PhD research, she is using genetic approaches to understand the role of the immune system in schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is a devastating and highly heritable disease, meaning that a large amount of variation in disease susceptibility is due to genetic factors. The most consistently identified genetic risk factor for schizophrenia lies within the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), a genetic region encoding critical components of the immune system. However, the MHC signal has not been successfully localized; it therefore remains unclear what is driving the association between this region and schizophrenia. Jennie is conducting research to better understand the MHC signal in this disease. She has become interested in the idea that comorbid autoimmune diseases may contribute to the MHC signal observed in schizophrenia.
This is the first time that comorbid autoimmune diseases will be taken into account in a genetic study of schizophrenia. The results of this research will provide the clearest picture so far on the relationship between autoimmune diseases and schizophrenia. Clinically, this research may lead to the discovery of immune targets that are disrupted in schizophrenia, fuelling advancements in treatment for patients in Canada and around the world.
The world-class research conducted at U of T is why Jennie chose to study here. It also allows her to stay close to her family, and to learn from international leaders in genetics, neuroscience, and mental health research.
Jennie conducts her research at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), the largest mental health teaching hospital in Canada. It has given her the unique opportunity to be exposed to cutting-edge research as well as the clinical challenges of treating mental illness. Most remarkably, she has the chance to engage with patients, funding agencies, and the public, and get a glimpse of their excitement in research at the CAMH and their perspectives on the most important knowledge gaps that need to be addressed. These diverse perspectives and experiences have helped contextualize her own research, and serve as strong motivation to remain in the field of mental health.
Jennie will be spending nine months studying at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Broad Institute, and Harvard Medical School in Boston, followed by three months at the University Medical Centre (UMC) Utrecht in the Netherlands.
When she graduates, she hopes to engage in research and clinical care that will eliminate stigma and improve outcomes for those living with mental illness. She encourages prospective students to find mentors who are willing to take the time to see your potential and push you to achieve it. Without the mentorship of her undergraduate thesis supervisors and her current PhD supervisors, Jennie would not be on this path.
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