About Our Lab

Our lab is a largely computational laboratory, examining the genetics of extreme adverse outcomes like suicide, severe and treatment-resistant depression, and psychosis. To study this, we leverage large genetic datasets from clinical populations, suicide deaths, and healthy emerging adults. Drs. Docherty and Shabalin have built a pipeline for genetic analysis and prediction of multiple health outcomes (the “phenome”) in emerging adulthood and beyond, and we investigate the genetic inter-relationships of psychiatric and medical conditions.

We play active roles in the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium on working groups to understand the genetics of alcohol use disorders, anxiety, autism, bipolar disorder, depression, ECT response, PTSD, psychosis, substance use disorders, and suicide. We contribute to the GTEx Consortium, SFARI, and to clinical nosology efforts in the HiTOP Consortium.

Whilst collaborating with international consortia, we are also working on population studies at the University of Utah. We examine clinical data in healthy emerging adults, patients with severe psychiatric conditions, and individuals who have died by suicide. With unique pedigree and medical record data available in Utah, the lab models both molecular genetic and environmental mediators of risk to identify behavioral and pharmacological intervention targets.

Genome-Wide Association and Whole Genome Sequencing Efforts to Study Suicide Death

The lab works closely with the centralized Office of the Medical Examiner to analyze genetic samples of individuals who have died by suicide. These studies have recently expanded to cross-ancestry GWAS efforts and whole genome sequencing of enriched extended pedigrees. All data are population-based and evidence ancestry admixture, enhancing sensitivity for discovery and increasing the generalizability of results.

Genes for Good: A College Student Study

A lot of the risk factors for suicide coincide with starting college; being at the age where one is leaving home for the first time, perhaps entering the military or living independently. Several risk factors can compound with genetic risk. We examine genetic risk across thousands of emerging adults to understand the interplay of genetics, environmental exposures, and psychosocial risk factors.

Storyline: AI for Precision Mental Health

With collaborator Chris Gregg (Molecular Biology), the PG Lab will use new AI software, Storyline, to model and validate features of risk encompassed by realtime speech, facial affect, muscle movement, and emotion tracking. Thousands of features can be modeled with genomic data to identify clusters or subgroups of individuals at greater risk for mental health concerns. These projects will unroll in outpatient clinics and will include individuals treated for cancer-related illnesses at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Ethics in Genetic Testing

With collaborator Brent Kious, MD/PhD, we study ethical implications of genetic testing in psychiatry. We work with the International Society for Psychiatric Genetics Ethics Advisory Board to work toward translation of our research to policy change, preparedness, and education of the public.

Some Ongoing Funded Projects (2021):

  • NIMH R01: Genome-Wide Association Analysis of Suicide Death (Docherty, Shabalin)
  • NIEHS R01: The Influence of Multiple Environmental Exposures on Suicide Risk (Bakian, Coon, Docherty)
  • NIMH R01: Whole-Genome Sequencing of Suicide Death (Coon)
  • The Simons Foundation: Modeling the Genetics of Autism (Docherty, Coon, Quinlan, Marth)
  • The Utah Genome Project: Deconvolution of Polygenic Risk Scores Toward Molecular Consequences (Camp, Docherty)
  • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: Proximal Environmental Exposures for the Chronic Inflammation Suicide Subtype (Bakian, Docherty)
  • NINDS R25: Training in Advanced Statistical Methods in Neuroimaging and Genetics (Welsh, Docherty, Shabalin, Koppelmans)