Serious mental illness – depression, bipolar, and psychotic disorder – is among the leading causes of disability worldwide. On top of the burden posed by its symptoms, mental illness is also associated with comorbid health problems. The two most important ‘comorbidities’ of mental illness, given their driving role in decreasing quality and duration of life, are substance (mis)use and cardiovascular disease. Whether these comorbidities arise due to causal relationships is surprisingly unclear. The causal direction is also uncertain: does mental illness lead to comorbidities, and / or do these comorbidities increase the risk of (more severe) mental illness? In this ERC funded project, innovative epidemiological and genetic approaches will be combined to unravel the relationships of mental illness with substance (mis)use and cardiovascular disease.
The research methods include epidemiological analyses of large longitudinal cohort studies and advanced genetic methods that use summary-level data of genome-wide association studies (GWAS). The project has an important focus on ‘triangulation’ of evidence – combining insights from across different methods and data samples to come to robust evidence. Another important focal point is diversity – while women (compared to men) and people of non-European ethnicity (compared to those of European ethnicity) are affected by a greater disease burden, gender and ethnic differences are understudied. This project attempts to fill this gap by including diverse (genetic) samples.
The two PhD students will start at the same time and will work closely together. Both PhD students will be conducting epidemiological and genetic analyses using existing databases and biobanks (the project does not include new data collection), mostly using software platform R. You will be involved in planning the exact analyses of each study, analyzing the data, and writing up the manuscripts. An important part of each of the PhD projects will be to carefully compare outcomes from the different applied methodologies (‘triangulation’) to come to strong evidence about the causal nature of the relationship between mental illness and its comorbidities.
We will offer ample opportunity for you to deepen and broaden your knowledge through specialized courses offered by our group or collaborators. We will also offer extensive support and training to master the innovative analysis techniques involved in the project (such as structural equation modelling and Mendelian randomization).
PhD student 1 will focus on unravelling the comorbidity between mental illness and substance use (cigarette smoking, cannabis use, alcohol). A secondary focus of this PhD student will be to translate the resulting knowledge to recommendations to inform prevention policy and health communication.
PhD student 2 will focus on unravelling the comorbidity between mental illness and cardiovascular disease. A secondary focus of this PhD student will be to translate the resulting knowledge to recommendations to inform clinical practice (in psychiatry and cardiology).
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You will become part of the Genetic Epidemiology research group which is embedded in the department of psychiatry. Our group consist of one Professor (Karin Verweij), four Assistant Professors, three post-doctoral researchers, and four PhD students. We conduct genetic research on a wide range of complex traits, including mental illness, substance use, brain structure and function, socio-economic outcomes, cardiovascular disease, and musicality. Within our group we have a very open and accessible culture and we encourage everyone to bring in their own ideas. We are also well connected with the larger genetics community, for instance through our organizing role in the Genetics Network Amsterdam (GENE Amsterdam; https://geneticsnetworkamsterdam.org/).
In this PhD position you will work on a larger project (UNRAVEL-CAUSALITY) which is funded by an ERC Starting grant and led by dr. Jorien Treur. The aim of the ERC project is to advance our understanding of the complex relation of mental illness with other health problems and thereby set the stage for more effective prevention and treatment.
During the publication period, applications will be handled continuously. If the vacancy is filled, it will be closed prematurely.
If you have any questions about this position, please feel free to contact dr. Jorien Treur at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about the application procedure, please contact Tanja Hart, Recruitment Advisor, via email@example.com or via 06-21603178.
A reference check, screening and hiring test may be part of the procedure. Read here whether that applies to you. If you join us, we ask you for a VOG (Certificate of Good Conduct).
Internal candidates will be given priority over external candidates in case of equal suitability.
Acquisition in response to this vacancy is not appreciated.