We are a multidisciplinary team of researchers from a range of fields, including epidemiology, public health, genetics, education, neurology, psychiatry, and psychology.
Dr. Erin C. Dunn is a social and psychiatric epidemiologist with expertise in genetics and epigenetics. Her research laboratory uses interdisciplinary approaches to better understand the social and biological factors that influence the etiology of depression among women, children, and adolescents. The goal of her work is to identify the causal mechanisms underlying risk for depression, translate that knowledge to population-based strategies for prevention, and target those strategies to “sensitive periods” in development. Sensitive periods are high-risk/high-reward stages in the course of the lifespan when experience, whether exposure to adversity on the one hand or health-promoting interventions on the other, can have lasting impacts on brain health. Through her efforts to determine when these sensitive periods occur, her goal is to design interventions that not only promote brain health across the lifespan, but are also uniquely timed to minimize the consequences of stress exposure, prevent depression before it onsets, and make the most efficient use of limited public health dollars. Dr. Dunn is currently an Assistant Professor at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Harvard Medical School and is affiliated with the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard, and the Henry and Allison McCance Center for Brain Health at MGH. She has led several genetic association studies and gene-environment interaction studies that were the first of their kind, including publishing the first genome-wide environment interaction study of depression; this work was recognized by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America through the Donald F. Klein Early Career Investigator Award and the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation through the Gerald R. Klerman Award, Honorable Mention. She is a 2017 recipient of a National Institute of Mental Health-funded Biobehavioral Research Award for Innovative New Scientists (BRAINS). In 2018, she was awarded a Rising Star award from One Mind.
POST-Doctoral Research Fellows
Karmel Choi, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow in the Psychiatric & Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and a postdoctoral collaborator with the Dunn Lab. She is mentored by Drs. Jordan Smoller and Karestan Koenen through the T32 Training Fellowship in Psychiatric Genetics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Her research focuses on the interplay of genetic and environmental factors that influence trauma and resilience across the life course, leveraging methods from statistical genetics, network science, and developmental epidemiology. Her clinical work focuses on treatment of mood and anxiety disorders and stress-related health conditions, particularly among women. Karmel completed her PhD in Clinical Psychology at Duke University and her predoctoral clinical internship in Behavioral Medicine at MGH.
Alex Lussier, Ph.D., joined the Dunn Lab in April 2019 as a postdoctoral fellow. He was previously a joint postdoc in computational biology in the Clark and Keinan laboratories at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, where he worked on the role of X chromosome variation in psychiatric and common diseases. He earned his Ph.D. in Medical Genetics from the University of British Columbia in 2017, where he studied the epigenetic patterns associated with prenatal alcohol exposure in animal models and clinical cohorts. He is broadly interested in the intersection of omics data (genomic, epigenomic, transcriptomic, etc.) to model the development of psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders and assess the impact of early-life events on long-term health outcomes.
Becky Mountain, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow in the Dunn Lab. She completed her Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of Arizona in 2019 and received her B.A. in Anthropology and Archaeology from Boston University in 2010. Her research focuses on the impacts of stress on skeletal health and disease in past and present human populations. In the Dunn Lab, Becky will be working on a new project exploring the use of teeth as biomarkers of early life exposures to psychosocial stress and their potential relationship to later mental health outcomes.
Jiaxuan (Jessie) Liu is a doctoral student in Population Health Science at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. She received her Master’s degree in Epidemiology from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her research interests include genetic and epigenetic epidemiology of mental health, neuropsychiatric disorders, and social risk factors. In the Dunn Lab, her current work focuses on assessing the relationships between childhood socioeconomic disadvantage, DNA methylation, and socioeconomic wellbeing in adolescence.
Kristen graduated from UC Berkeley in 2012 with a B.A. in Psychology and completed a M.P.H. in 2016 at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Social and Behavioral Science. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Population Health Science at Harvard University. Her research examines the impact of early life adversity and trauma on mental and physical health outcomes, focusing on understanding the processes of psychological resilience. In the Dunn Lab, her work focuses on identifying sensitive periods to early adversity on psychological outcomes later in development or in adulthood.
Meg graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2011 with a B.A. in the Biological Basis of Behavior, and received a M.Sc. in Epidemiology from Imperial College London in 2012. She is currently a doctoral student in Epidemiology at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Her prior work includes research on the genetics of nicotine addiction and social risk factors on workplace mental health, which prompted her interest in both genetic and environmental risk factors and how their interplay leads to psychopathology. Meg is now using data from the Nurses’ Health Study II to determine how childhood adversity and the developmental timing of the exposure moderates the impact of genetic risk variants on mental disorders.
Krista is a Senior at Princeton Day School in Princeton, NJ. She is interning at the Dunn Lab as part of her school’s Research Experience program (REx), in which a select group of students learns about the process of scientific research through class discussion and independent study. As part of REx, Krista conducted a study on the relationship between academic stress and overall happiness within her high school. She is excited to learn more about the genetic basis of depression and how developmental adversity affects mental health. She will present her summer work at the Dunn Lab to the Princeton Day School community next fall.
Kristina is a Sophomore at Harvard College concentrating in History of Science with sub-field in Psychology. She is also pursuing a secondary in Spanish. Previously, she interned with The Global Bioethics Organization, where she studied and helped to educate the public on bioethics. Kristina is passionate about issues in children’s health, and particularly how these issues can impact adulthood. In the Dunn Lab, she hopes to learn more about how childhood adversity affects mental health outcomes.
Clara is a rising sophomore at Georgetown University on the pre-medicine track majoring in psychology. Prior to joining the Dunn Lab, she interned in the MGH main hospital on Blake 14, observing labor and delivery practices. She has focused her studies on childhood and adolescent development in the past, and will be exploring cognition and abnormal psychology. Clara is particularly passionate about making connections from adult mental health conditions to prior childhood adversities, and finding which populations are most susceptible to these outcomes. In the Dunn Lab, she hopes to explore the biological underpinnings of mental illness that can lead to stronger prevention efforts.
Janine joins the Dunn Lab as a Clinical Research Coordinator. She graduated from Union College in 2016 with a B.S. in Psychology and a minor in Mathematics. Prior to joining the Dunn Lab, Janine worked as a practice development assistant at Ropes & Gray where she supported the life sciences practice group. Her research interests include childhood adversity and resilience. In the Dunn Lab, she hopes to help identify who is more susceptible to depression following adversity and why.
Katie graduated from Brown University in 2012 with a B.A. in Gender & Sexuality Studies, and received an M.A. in Psychology from Brandeis University in 2017. Her research at Brandeis focused on the developmental sequelae of childhood abuse in a sample of male juveniles who had sexually offended. As a Clinical Research Coordinator at the Dunn Lab, Katie hopes to continue to explore the extent to which early life adversity and genetic variation predict subsequent psychopathology.
Olivia is a Junior at Northeastern University studying Health Sciences and has minors in both Global Health and Ethics. Prior to joining the Dunn Lab, she has completed various internships at Brigham and Women’s/Dana Farber Cancer Center, the South End Community Health Center and The Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory. As a research assistant in the Dunn Lab, she is looking forward to learning more about the biological pathways of depression and how early stressors can impact mental health later in life.
Yiwen graduated from Smith College in 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Statistical & Data Sciences. She also received a Master of Science degree in Biostatistics from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in 2017. Her past research experience includes applying integrative approaches for causal mediation analyses as well as examining latent trauma subtypes on the population level. Joining the Dunn Lab as a data analyst, Yiwen is excited to apply her statistical skills and explore the underlying biological mechanisms (especially epigenetic changes) that connect early life adversity to psychopathology.
Natalie Harrington joins the Dunn Lab as a new Staff Assistant. She comes to the lab with a degree in Sociology and a varied career focusing on families. Prior to joining the Dunn Lab, Natalie ran her own small business as a Home Manager, assisting multiple families in the administrative aspects of their lives. New to the field of science and research, Natalie hopes to bring her expertise in organization and planning to the office, while learning as much as she can about our studies.
Kenzie Rzonca graduated from Kansas State University in 2014 with a B.S. in Elementary Education (concentration in English), and minor in French. She recently received her M.A. in Publishing & Writing from Emerson College in May. After spending a year as a third-grade teacher in Fort Riley, Kansas, Kenzie went on to complete several editorial internships at literary agencies during her time at Emerson College, along with a sales internship within a children's book publishing house. As a children’s book development consultant, Kenzie is looking forward to working with the rest of the Dunn Lab to create a children's book that will showcase the lab's research and goals in a way that is engaging and informative for kids.
Tannu Singh joined The Dunn Lab in May 2019 as a Program Manager. Most recently, she spent over three years at the Department of Veterans Affairs as the Project Coordinator for the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Brain Bank funded by the National Center for PTSD. She graduated from the University of New Haven with a double major in Criminal Justice and Psychology. She continued her education at the Boston University School of Medicine earning a Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling and Behavioral Medicine. Rather than going into clinical work, Tannu wanted to pursue a career in research to help contribute to unlocking the mystery behind the understanding of mental illness and brain health. The hope is that a better understanding of these topics will improve treatments options and the quality of life for those experiencing mental illness. Her research interests lie in exploring the relationship between mind, body, and environment in mental illnesses like trauma disorders, depression, and anxiety.