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Biography

I am Professor of Biological Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London, and my work focuses on the interplay between genetic, biopsychosocial and environmental factors in healthy development and in the development of eating disorders and comorbid mental illness.

 I undertook a PhD at the University of Paris VII, studying the fundamental bases of oncogenesis, investigating molecular mechanisms of growth inhibition in tumorigenic T-lymphocytes, followed by postdoctoral positions in Switzerland (University of Basel, with a EMBO postdoctoral research fellowship) and Germany (German Cancer Research Centre, Heidelberg and Institute for Tumour Biology and Experimental Therapy, in Frankfurt). When advances in the fields of neuroimaging had reached the stage where measuring changes of the brain in vivo had become a reality, I moved my career from the genetic bases of cancer to investigate the impact of genes on the human brain and behaviour. I became a member of academic staff at the IoPPN and was promoted to Professor in 2021.

My work is highly interdisciplinary, using longitudinal cohort designs, genomics, neuroimaging and behavioural and clinical assessments to discover the neurophysiological and cognitive traits that may be disrupted in individuals suffering from major mental illnesses. In addition to leading the MRC-funded ESTRA (https://www.kcl.ac.uk/research/estra) project exploring biopsychosocial risk factors for eating disorders, I am a member of several large international consortia, leading Genetics Working on longitudinal neuroimaging x genetics adolescent cohorts in Europe (IMAGEN Consortium; https://imagen-europe.com) and India (Consortium on Vulnerability to Externalizing Disorders and Addictions (c-VEDA; https://www.kcl.ac.uk/cveda/about)). I also Chair the Epigenetics Working Group of the international Enhancing NeuroImaging Genetics through Meta-Analysis consortium (ENIGMA; http://enigma.ini.usc.edu/about-2/consortium/).

I have always aspired to be a role model, and as Race Equality Co-Champion, I chaired the IoPPN Race Equality Working Group for over 3 years, engaging with students and staff and actively working to promote an inclusive and supportive environment for all at KCL. This has informed the development of the IoPPN Race Equality Action Plan.

Research interests:

  • Eating disorders: A major focus of my work is to understand how and why some people develop an eating disorder, and why others do not. I investigate this by leading the ESTRA study (https://www.kcl.ac.uk/research/estra) that investigates the aetiology and underpinning mechanisms of eating disorders (EDs) in adolescents and young adults. Based on the recruitment of participants with Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder, ESTRA complements the STRATIFY study (a collaboration between researchers in the UK and Germany) that focusses on Major Depressive Disorder, Alcohol Use Disorder and Psychosis, giving us an opportunity investigate comorbidity and core psychopathology across EDs. Working closely with colleague Ulrike Schmidt, Professor of Eating Disorders, our research aims at personalised prevention and early intervention of eating disorders.
  • Genomic bases of brain structure and function: Since little is known about the genetic bases of brain structure and function, I have used the tremendous advantages of brain imaging with genomics to investigate brain-behaviour relationships and identify genes influencing brain development and function. With collaborators from the IMAGEN and ENIGMA consortia, we have shown that using large studies combining data derived from brain MRI, genomics and other sources we may be able to describe physical characteristics associated with psychiatric disease and abnormal behaviour.

Expertise and Public Engagement:

I have worked closely with charities (i.e., the Medical Research Foundation) and with media companies to ensure that eating disorders are well understood by the public. For example, I have engaged in dissemination activities as part of the Eating Disorders Awareness Week to assist in raising awareness and reducing stigma for patients with eating disorders. A Questions & Answer based interview highlighting the significance of our work was published on the Medical Research Foundation’s website and on social media, which was liked and retweeted in beyond the UK. https://www.medicalresearchfoundation.org.uk/news- and-events  

Teaching:

  • Assessment Sub-Board Deputy Chair for the SGDP DEV-PP Masters programme
  • co-leader of the Dissertation Module for the SGDP DEV-PP Masters programme
  • Teaching on the postgraduate taught programmes MSc DEV-PP and MSc Neuroscience.