Short CV/Education and training

  • My research interest are mainly in genetic and epidemiological analyses of data on smoking behavior. In addition to smoking research I am also interested in other substance use variables like cannabis use and alcohol consumption, but also in other phenotypes like personality traits.

    My primary training was in Molecular Biology and I worked for 3 years in this field while also obtaining formal training in Epidemiology. In 1999, I started as a PhD-student at the Department of Biological Psychology. In this multidisciplinary department I developed my skills in the direction of Behavior Genetics. I collected data on lifestyle and personality in adult twins and their family members. These data were used to investigate the individual differences of different aspects of smoking behavior and nicotine dependence. I used epidemiological techniques to explore the etiology of familial associations in smoking behavior both cross-sectionally and longitudinally [1-5]and I was one of the firsts in the field of smoking research to carry out genetic linkage analyses of smoking with DNA based microsatellite markers to locate chromosomal regions involved in smoking behavior. After finishing my PhD-project I became a post doc and, after a year, assistant professor at the Department of Biological Psychology. I have received a prestigious VENI-grant which aims to support the top 10% of young investigators in the Netherlands. This gave me the opportunity to work on my own research project entitled: Causes and consequences of smoking behavior – a twin-family study. I extended my molecular genetic studies of smoking behavior to include genetic association analyses (GWA) and pathway modeling. I pioneered the linkage of data from the NTR to other medical databases such as the Nationwide Pathology Database. This is the first time this informative design was applied to data available from national medical databases. Data from the NTR are currently linked to data of the Netherlands Cancer Registration. In 2011, I have received an ERC starting grant entitled "Beyond the Genetics of Addiction". With this grant I started my own research team to explore the interplay between genetic and environmental factors on substance use and abuse.

    In 2015 I started as a full professor at the Radboud University in Nijmegen.

Selected publications

Selected projects

  • ERC project "Beyond the Genetics of Addiction" (start december 2011):

  • My proposal seeks to explain the complex interplay between genetic and environmental causes of individual variation in substance use and the risk for abuse. Substance use is common. Substances like nicotine and cannabis have well-known negative health consequences, while alcohol and caffeine use may be both beneficial and detrimental, depending on the quantity and frequency of use. Twin studies (including my own) demonstrated that both heritable and environmental factors play a role in substance use and in the risk for abuse. Understanding the balance between genetic and environmental causes may hold the key to further reductions in the disease burden and mortality due to substance use.

    My proposal on substance use (nicotine, alcohol, cannabis and caffeine) is organized around several key objectives:

    1. To unravel the interplay between genetic and environmental influences on substance use by using extended twin family designs;

    2. To identify and confirm genes and gene networks involved in substance use by using DNA-variant data;

    3. To explore differential gene expression patterns associated with substance use;

    4. To test the added value of biomarkers for substance use (measured in blood or urine) in understanding the individual variation in substance use;

    5. To unravel relation between substance use and health by linking twin-family data to national medical databases.

    To realize these aims I will use the extensive resources of the Netherlands Twin Register (NTR); including both the longitudinal phenotype database and the biological samples collected in the NTR biobank. I have been involved in data collection, coordination of data collection and analyzing the data since 1999. With my comprehensive experience in data collection, data analyses and my knowledge in the field of behavior genetics and addiction research I will be able to successfully lead this cutting-edge project. Additional phenotype data crucial for the project will be collected by my team. Large samples will be available for this study and state-of-the art methods will be used to analyze the data. All together, my project will offer powerful approaches to unravel the complex interaction between genetic and environmental causes of individual differences in substance use and the risk for abuse and will give new opportunities for health promotion, prevention and intervention.

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