Genetics and substance use

Focus of research

My main research interests are the genetics of substance use (smoking, alcohol, cannabis) and the link between substance use and psychiatric outcomes. In 2016 I obtained my PhD at VU University in Amsterdam. During my PhD project I collected and analyzed data of thousands of twins and their family members to disentangle genetic from environmental influences on substance use. After obtaining my PhD, I received a NWO Rubicon grant to work as a post-doc at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. In Bristol I have specialized in a novel method that is increasingly being applied for causal inference, called Mendelian randomization. Mendelian randomization uses genetic variants predictive of an ‘exposure’ variable as an instrument, or proxy, to test causal effects on an ‘outcome’ variable. Because genes are randomly transmitted from parents to offspring, and an outcome cannot alter a person’s genes, this method suffers much less from confounding and reverse causality than conventional observational research. In 2018, I obtained a NWO VENI grant which has allowed me to join the department of Psychiatry at Amsterdam UMC to investigate the link between smoking and psychiatric traits with genetic methods (Mendelian randomization, genetic correlations, polygenic risk scores) as well as experimental methods (i.e. cognitive training to help smokers quit; in collaboration with the department of Developmental Psychology of the University of Amsterdam).