Dr Na Cai

Subject Bioinformatics
Fellow type Postdoctoral By-Fellows
Year started 2017

Biography


Na is a statistical geneticist at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and European Bioinformatics Institute. She studied Natural Sciences (Biological) in Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, then did her PhD on genetics of depression (Major Depressive Disorder, MDD) with Professor Jonathan Flint in the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics in Oxford.

While in Oxford, Na worked on using low-coverage whole-genome sequencing data in a large cohort of 12,000 Han Chinese women in CONVERGE study of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) to find genetic variants associated with MDD. She and colleagues found the first two robust and replicated genetic associations with MDD, and an intriguing phenomenon of increased levels of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in cases of MDD compared to healthy controls. She then further established in animal models chronic stress can cause reversible increases in mtDNA levels in multiple tissues. Both human and animal data showed that an increase in mtDNA may be a consequence of the depressive state chronic stress induces.

After completing her PhD in 2016, she was awarded the EBI-Sanger Postdoctoral (ESPOD) Fellowship to learn, develop and apply statistical methods on investigations of the relationship between genetic variations (including those in mtDNA), MDD, and environmental stress, as well as what potentially happens at the molecular and physiological level when mtDNA varies between people or undergoes changes in a single person, for instance in the depressive state.