Applied genetics

Applied Genetics

Dr Debra Foley

Professor Nick Allen and the ADS team (OYHRC)
Dr Chad Bousman, McKenzie Post-Doctoral Fellow, Psychiatry Dept, University of Melbourne
Aicha Brahmi, Karyn Carroll, Stewart Duncum
Dr Keith Byron, Director of Genetics Laboratory at Health Scope Molecular
Dr Justine Ellis, Research Fellow, Raul Chavez, RA, Environmental and Genetic Epidemiology Research, Environment, Genes & Health Theme, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Royal Children's Hospital, Parkville VIC
Genetic Repositories Australia (GRA), Randwick, Sydney, NSW, NHMRC enabling facility
Professor Stephen Harrap, Head, Physiology Dept, University of Melbourne
Melissa Kerr (OYHRC)
Professor Andrew Mackinnon, Head, Biostatistics Unit (Orygen)
Professor Patrick McGorry (OYHRC)
Dr Kate Morley, statistical geneticist for the Deciphering Developmental Disorder project, Sanger Institute, Cambridge University, UK
John Moran (OYHRC)
A/Professor Brendan Murphy, Director, First Episode Psychosis treatment Centre, Southern Health, Dandenong, VIC
Professor Christos Pantelis, Director, Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre, University of Melbourne
Dr Richard Saffery, Head, Developmental Epigenetics, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Royal Children's Hospital, Parkville VIC
Professor Stephen Wood, University of Birmingham, UK
Professor Alison Yung and the PACE team (OYHRC)


  • Publications in the two leading journals in Psychiatry: Molecular Psychiatry and Archives of General Psychiatry. A major review paper was published in Archives of General Psychiatry describing early cardiometabolic outcomes of the first treated episode of psychosis. This work led to an interview with Reuters (Leigh Krietsch Boerner NEW YORK (Reuters Health) Short time on antipsychotics may up heart disease. Wed Feb 09 22:19:58 UTC 2011) and a search on “foley antipsychotics Reuters” generates about 41,000 hits. This work was also the basis for an editorial in the Lancet (The Lancet. No mental health without physical health. The Lancet, Vol. 377 No. 9766 p 611 Feb 19, 2011).
  • Dr Foley was invited to attend two associated meeting - Adipogenic and metabolic side effects of antipsychotic drugs. July 11-12, 2011. Elizabeth, New Jersey, USA and to participate in a special session of Early Intervention in psychosis: Time to get physical (How a general nurse model responds to the problem in Australia) Author(s): Foley DL, Brahmi A, Carroll KE, Morley KI, Murphy BP. International Early Psychosis Association, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, November 28 2010.
  • An editor from the Lancet has invited Dr Foley to submit articles to the Lancet and Foley is currently working on a major review and synthesis of treatment induced genetic effects on the elevated risk for heart disease in psychosis and what that means for clinical practice and intervention programs. 

The primary goal of the Applied Genetics Unit is to undertake research that integrates genetics with clinical and community psychiatry to identify risk factors and to predict treatment response, including the development of adverse side effects, and to better characterize psychiatric and physical health outcomes. A genetically informative design can help identify the sources of individual variation and thereby provide better targets for intervention, prevention and risk management.

Explaining increased risk for heart disease among individuals with psychosis
A pilot project funded by the National Heart Foundation (CIA Debra Foley) is currently being completed. This project ascertained 99 individuals receiving antipsychotic drugs for their first episode of psychosis and evaluated them on up to 6 occasions over 18 months to estimate change in risk factors for heart disease after first exposure to antipsychotic drugs. A secondary goal of this project is to evaluate the implementation of physical health monitoring of adolescents and young adults with psychosis after initiation of antipsychotic drug treatment using general nurses.

Predicting the development of psychosis in an ultra high risk sample using genetic data 
This is a sub-study of a larger study conducted on individuals at ultra high risk for psychosis which was funded by the NHMRC via the Program Grant and which is known locally as the PACE400 (CIA Alison Yung). DNA has been collected on 225 individuals including 60 who developed psychosis over a 2-14 year follow-up period. Ancestral markers have been genotyped to control for population stratification, a common source of bias in genetic association studies, and we have begun genotyping candidate genes for schizophrenia because schizophrenia is the most common psychotic outcome of the PACE400 cohort. We are currently investigating the relationship between variants in the schizophrenia candidate gene neuregulin 1, structural brain imaging measures at baseline, and the subsequent development of psychosis. 

Predicting the development of anxiety and depression in adolescence with genes, neuroanatomy and parenting This is a project funded by the ARC (CIA Nick Allen). 172 DNA samples have been collected from (a target sample of) 205 adolescents ; data collection is projected to be finalized within the next 4 months for adolescents with a predicted 20-30 additional DNA samples to be collected; 61 DNA samples have been collected from (a target sample of) 160 mothers of adolescents have been collected, and that data collection has been put on hold due to funding short falls and associated logistical issues. 

Other Projects
Dr Foley is also involved in several other projects (e.g., identifying novel olfactory deficits in schizophrenia; a twin study of obsessive compulsive disorder, genetic predictors of autobiographical memory loss after ECT). Foley has agreed to be a collaborator on a Medical Research Council grant by Stephen Wood (UK) to ascertain a British cohort of individuals at ultra high risk for psychosis.