Stress & Epigenetics: How Fishes Contribute to the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
The Hector Fellows Axel Meyer and Thomas Elbert work in a joint interdisciplinary research project investigating the epigenetic effects of stress.
Prof. Dr. Axel Meyer (University of Konstanz) is one of the pioneers in the field of evolutionary biology. Together with postdoc Dr. Amber Makowicz, he tests the effects of stress on long-lasting maladaptive behavioral changes in offspring of stressed parents on the model of Poeciliid fishes. Prof. Dr. Thomas Elbert (University of Konstanz) is a renowned professor for clinical psychology and neuropsychology. He investigates the consequences of traumatic stress and the psychological genesis of the readiness to use violence and kill. Together with PhD student Daniela Conrad he builds on the findings of the research with fish to systematically investigate genetic pathways influencing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in humans. They explore if epigenetic methylation in these pathways predicts treatment success with a trauma-focused approach (Narrative Exposure Therapy, NET) and whether it might change in the course or aftermath of therapeutic interventions.
Combining these two disciplines and perspectives allows the researchers to gain valuable new insights into epigenetic effects of stress and to contribute to the development of successful therapy approaches that are tailored to the patients’ genetic and epigenetic characteristics. This topic is currently of particularly high importance as many refugees suffer from mental and physical ailments caused by traumatic experiences at war and while fleeing from their homelands.
The project is funded by the Hector Fellow Academy. This young science academy is an interdisciplinary network for top-level research and fosters cutting-edge research across institutions and research fields. The Hector Fellow Academy nurtures innovative interdisciplinary projects between renowned professors of different STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) as well as medicine and psychology. Besides, the academy promotes young scientists. It offers fully-funded PhD positions for ambitious candidates who carry out a self-developed research project. By bringing together outstanding scientists across institutions and scientific disciplines, the Hector Fellow Academy creates impulses for innovative projects, initiates socio-political discourses and contributes to solving global challenges. At the same time, it strengthens Germany’s position as a location for science.