A new postdoc IIEG member

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You'll Go!

When I was younger and read Dr. Seuss' books, I never realized how the above mentioned quote would follow me.

My name is Loretto and since August I happily started working as a Postdoc in the Department of Bioinformatics at the IIEG.

Prior to coming here I was a PhD fellow for 3.5 years in the Unit of Genetic Epidemiology & Bioinformatics within the Epidemiology Department, at University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG), University of Groningen, under the supervision of Prof.Dr. Harold Snieder and Dr. Ilja Nolte. In March 2016 I successfully defended my propositions and dissertation which was entitled: Finding the Genetic Factors of Heart Rate Variability.
A brief summary of my PhD thesis work: Heart rate variability (HRV) is the beat-to-beat variation over a period of time between consecutive heartbeats and is a reliable, non-invasive, economical reflection of the changes in cardiac regulation by the autonomic nervous system in response to physiological and psychological challenges. Abnormalities of autonomic activity are reflected by a reduced HRV and are strongly associated with an increased risk of cardiac events, sudden cardiac death and overall mortality. It has been shown that genetic factors are involved in HRV, but to date no genes have been found consistently. Therefore my thesis was aimed at unraveling the genetic background of HRV. I first showed that 10s electrocardiograms provide already valid measures for time-domain HRV traits, implying that with routinely collected ECGs sample sizes can be greatly improved for (genetic)epidemiological studies. Following this, by using a heritability study I then demonstrated that HRV was heritable at rest and under stress, and that the genes underlying HRV in these conditions are largely the same with some genetic effects specific to the stress conditions. Subsequently, by using a candidate gene study I explored the association of eight genes involved with acetylcholine transport or breakdown, with HRV, however no significant findings emerged. Due to this outcome and hence, the limitations of candidate gene studies, the next logical step was to use a hypothesis-free study such as a meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies where we, the VgHRV Consortium, incorporated more than 50,000 Caucasian individuals, and found 11 genetic variants from eight regions were identified to be associated with HRV, many of which replicated in Hispanic/Latino and African-American individuals. Nine genes in these eight regions were found to be potentially causally related with HRV - we are the first to present genes that are robustly identified to be involved in HRV. If you would like to read my dissertation in detail, please feel free to follow the link: http://hdl.handle.net/11370/0fb28db2-74ef-45e1-8e61-64357047c932

My academic career started with a BSc. in Cellular and Molecular Biology majoring in biochemistry, genetic, microbiology from the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa. This was followed by a MSc. in Clinical Epidemiology (summa cum laude) from the Universidad de La Frontera, Chile whereby my MSc thesis was focused on using a cost-effectiveness analysis for over-the-counter contraceptives used as pregnancy prevention treatments during 2009-2010 in Chile.

In conjunction to my academic activities, I enjoyed participating in organizational committees and until recently I was a member of the Groningen University Institute for Drug Exploration (GUIDE) Education Committee and a member of the Graduate School of Medical Science (GSMS) PhD Council in representation of GUIDE, both memberships at the UMCG. Furthermore, I am currently in the process of gaining my registration as an Epidemiology Researcher coordinated by the Netherlands Epidemiology Society (VvE).

So if you need help with anything please don't hesitate to pop-by: room number 4.20.

On a personal note I would like to thank all who have helped and welcomed me to the IIEG and Luebeck!! Your help and guidance thus far has been indispensable.

Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa

Universidad de la Frontera, Temuco, Chile
University of Groningen, the Netherlands
Fishoek Beach, Cape Town, South Africa

La Serena Beach, Coquimbo, Chile