What motivated you to come to Bristol and do this programme?
There are multiple reasons I chose to come to Bristol for this programme. I completed my undergraduate course in Bristol and have thoroughly enjoyed my time in this city. Through my undergraduate course I learned of the brilliant epidemiological work going on in the School of Social and Community Medicine. There was a specific project that linked in nicely with my undergraduate work and after talking to a potential supervisor I really wanted to be part of the work. The 1+3 year programme was also very appealing as my BSc is biomedical, so I wanted the time in the first year to learn as much as possible before starting my main project.
What is the key research question of your PhD research project and what have you found out so far?
My main project concerns investigating how genetic variation influences disease through regional changes in DNA methylation. Many epigenetic epidemiology studies looking into changes in DNA methylation and disease use single CpG sites to see how they may influence disease, but this is not always biologically relevant as it is often a regional change in CpG methylation that influences gene expression. Thus by exploring how genetic variation influences these regional changes in methylation we can uncover novel, heritable, disease-causing traits.
Currently I am working on my first mini-project. I am investigating how single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), that are associated with coronary artery disease (CAD), are linked to the metabolome of adolescents. The aim is to uncover how the SNPs could be increasing risk of CAD from an early age, and thus potentially provide a rationale for early life intervention.
Where do you think your research could lead and what are your future career plans now?
I hope that the research leads to a better understanding of the causal pathway from genetic variation, through epigenetic alterations to disease. It would also be nice if this work could one day be translated into the clinic. I plan to remain in academia within the field of epigenetic epidemiology after I finish the PhD.