Dr Pippa Thomson


I am a Lecturer and Psychiatric Genetics and Biology Group Leader, at  the Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine (CGEM) within the  Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine (IGMM). I obtained a BSc in  Biology from the University of Bristol. I subsequently joined the  laboratory of Professor Terry Burke at the University of Leicester,  where I completed a BBSRC Industrial Case PhD developing genetic markers  to build the chicken linkage map, and to characterise chicken telomeres  and telomere-related sequences. Following the group’s move to the  University of Sheffield, I worked as a post-doctoral research associate  on European FP6-funded Avian Biodiversity Programme, examining the  distribution of population-specific (private) alleles and the amount of  genetic variation shared among rare breeds of chickens. In 2000, I moved to the University of Edinburgh and switched species.  Working in the laboratory of Professor David Porteous, and alongside  colleagues from the Royal Edinburgh Hospital (Division of Psychiatry), I  am using genetics to understand how the brain controls behaviour through  studying genetic susceptibility to psychiatric illness (depression,  bipolar disorder and schizophrenia). I was awarded an RCUK Fellowship in  Translational Medicine (Genetics, Genomic and Pathway Biology),  combining both genetic, statistical and molecular approaches to  understand the genetic basis of major mental illness. I continue this  work, using linkage, association and whole genome sequence analysis to  identify risk variants for mental illness and related quantitative  traits such as cognition and mood, in both clinical and population-based  cohorts. Key to this is using bioinformatics to understand the  biological processes affected and integrating our understanding of the  interaction between genetic and environmental effects acting on these  complex phenotypes. In parallel, I use molecular cell biology to  investigate the functional effects of a risk variant in GPR50 a  candidate gene for affective disorder. This has identified a potential  role for GPR50 in neurodevelopment through the activation of the WAVE  complex. I teach within undergraduate and postgraduate courses, both based in  Edinburgh and by e-learning, and contribute to the planning, preparation  and delivery of the Human Complex Trait module of the Quantitative  Genetics and Genetics Analysis MSc (http://qgen.bio.ed.ac.uk/).  

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