From cells to mice, genetics to brains, and deep neural networks; what more could one want from an away day?
by Dr Sian Lowri Griffiths
6 July 2021 saw the much-awaited PIMS annual away day, albeit the second hosted virtually. Nevertheless, colleagues and collaborators joined from far and wide to listen to the line-up of talks from talented early career researchers within immunopsychiatry.
The day kicked off with an address from chief investigators Prof. Rachel Upthegrove and Prof Golam Khandaker, who are leading pioneering work within the field. First up was a talk from clinical academic fellow – Dr Benjamin Perry, who presented his published PhD work which highlighted the temporality between cardiometabolic and psychotic disorders, proposing inflammation as a potential biological mechanism implicated in both disorders.
Next up we heard talks from Priestly PhD student Paris Lalousis, and Melbourne PhD student Sarah Herniman, both working collaboratively between Melbourne and the Institute of Mental health, Birmingham. Using EU data from the PRONIA study, Paris demonstrated the utility of using data from a range of modalities (neuroimaging, clinical, cognitive and cytokine data), and applying machine learning to delineate transdiagnostic clusters, challenging the use of nosological categories. Sarah also discussed modelling techniques, specifically how network modelling can be applied to determine the influence of biological markers on symptom networks following intervention.
This was followed by presentations from PIMS’s very own postdoctoral researchers – Dr Andrey Barsky and Dr John Williams – where they provided an update on their work to-date across the PIMS work packages. Both John and Andrey, with a background in data science (working with PIMS PI Professor George Gkoutos), discussed their highly novel methodologies for exploring phenotypic variation within patient data. Andrey is applying generative deep learning to explicitly model structural brain differences and their relationship with key biomarkers. John, alongside Dr Stephen Burgess (University of Cambridge), applied mendelian randomisation to establish potentially causal relationships between genetically determined elevation of cytokines and brain structure. The work conducted within these work packages will potentially inform an immune phenotype within psychosis.
As the day drew to a close, we heard talks from stellar doctoral students across broad disciplines. Connor Dunnleavey (University of Birmingham), talked about using a revolutionary method utilising pluripotent stem cells to investigate inflammatory dysfunction in schizophrenia pathology. Alex Murray (University of Birmingham), presented his systematic review on measurements of oxidative stress markers in schizophrenia-spectrum psychosis. Dr Edward Palmer (Clinical academic Fellow, Birmingham) presenting his work on epidemiological population data. And finally, and by no means least, Rebecca Wood (University of Manchester), presented her PhD work applying an animal model to understand the underlying causative mechanisms of maternal immune activation and psychosis risk.
The second PIMS away day was a success, with thought provoking talks prompting insightful discussions! The bar is set high for the 3rd annual away day … hopefully, next time, we will see you there in person!