Thomas Wassink, MD, the lab's Primary Investigator, is a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. He also serves as Assistant Director of Molecular Genetics in the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics Cytogenetics laboratory. Clinically, he oversees use of DNA microarray and other technologies for detection of chromosomal abnormalities and other rare variants in clinical populations. His research laboratory is well-versed in essential molecular technologies such as sequencing, genotyping, quantitative PCR, and others. The laboratory team has assembled large DNA collections of exhaustively phenotyped individuals with schizophrenia and autism, as well as psychiatrically unaffected controls.
Groundbreaking Research and Important Discoveries
The Wassink Lab's multidisciplinary research spans numerous research domains and includes groundbreaking work involving integration of data from structural brain imaging studies with genetic data. While still a post-doctoral fellow, Wassink began collecting DNA on Iowa schizophrenia subjects and controls. Blazing new trails in an area now commonly referred to as “imaging genetics,” in 2000, his laboratory published the first paper describing a relationship between genetic variants and brain structure volumes. His team has since examined effects on both brain structure and function of BDNF, TNF-RII, NOTCH4, NEUROG1, CNR1, MAPK14, ASPM, LIS1, DAOA, RELN, and ZNF804. Reflecting a specific interest in dopamine, research has also examined COMT, DRD2, DISC1, MTHFR, and others.
A second research focus looks at duplications and deletions of intermediate-sized chromosomal segments (>100 bp and >5 MB) called “copy number variants” (CNVs). DNA microarray studies have shown CNVs to be commonly linked to neuropsychiatric disease. One of the earliest CNV studies focused on autism and included Iowa as a research site. This research revealed a Neurexin-1 (NRXN1) deletion related to neuropsychiatric disorder1; the affected family was from the Iowa site and this new discovery was made by Wassink. Microarray studies of neuropsychiatric disorders have since revealed disease-susceptibility CNVs in 10-15% of cases. The lab's current line of research integrates brain imaging with CNVs by assessing relationships between specific clinically relevant CNVs and brain structure volumes in individuals with autism and psychiatrically unaffected controls.