Dr Divya Mehta is a Research Fellow in the Centre for Neurogenetics and Statistical Genomics (headed by Professors Wray and Visscher) at QBI, and Associate Researcher at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry.
She graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science (Genetics), before completing her Masters at Imperial College London in Human Molecular Genetics.
Her PhD was undertaken in Germany at the Technical University Munich in 2009, before moving to the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry for her first postdoctoral position.
While at Max Planck she began transitioning away from wet laboratory work, seeing the importance of diversifying.
“Working with both biologists and statisticians, I soon realised that I was in a unique position where I was able to do both the lab work and analyse the data in a biologically interpretable manner,” she said.
“When I finished my postdoc I was looking for groups that were leaders in statistical genomics, and hence I applied and moved to Naomi Wray and Peter Visscher’s group at the QBI in 2013.
“It’s incredibly gratifying to be working in a stimulating environment like QBI’s, surrounded by talented researchers and clinicians driven towards common goals of research driven to improving health outcomes.”
Dr Mehta’s major research focus is the identification of genetic and environmental risk factors and how these modulate risk for mental disorders.
Dr Mehta recently won her first independent grant, a National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression Young Investigator Grant, to expand her pilot work identifying early predictive gene expression biomarkers for postpartum depression.
“Postpartum depression, which affects similar aged women all subjected to the same biopsychosocial stressor, allows for targeted sampling of a relatively homogenous subset of depression, giving increased power to detect susceptibility factors,” Dr Mehta said.
Dr Mehta’s findings showed postpartum depression can be detected with a relatively high level of accuracy, using gene expression biomarkers as early as the third trimester of pregnancy, to identify high-risk women.
“Timing is crucial, because women are generally diagnosed after delivery, and by then it’s often too late for both mother and child as the symptoms of postpartum depression have already manifested,” she said.
“As our understanding of the biological mechanisms and aetiology of mental diseases improves, our ability to treat mental disorders will also improve, and I think we are on the cusp of many interesting scientific discoveries, and reducing the stigma attached to these disorders in society.”