Candidate: I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). My overarching career goal is to develop an independent NIH-funded program of research that explicates the etiology of comorbid alcohol involvement (AI) and eating disorder (ED) pathology using sophisticated and comprehensive statistical methodologies that incorporate both genetic and environmental risk. I seek additional instruction in: (1) advanced training in ED and alcohol phenotypes; (2) adolescent development; and (3) modern genomic analyses. Research Project: Existing data from the Child and Adolescent Twin Study in Sweden (CATSS) will be leveraged with existing genome-wide association study (GWAS) data from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (PGC) to explore the manner and extent to which the comorbidity between AI and ED pathology are accounted for by genetic and environmental factors.
Specific aims are to: (1) obtain descriptive information and explore genetic and environmental effects on comorbid AI and ED pathology in adolescence and young adulthood, and investigate the extent to which childhood adversity affects this association; (2) identify shared genetic risk factors for AI and ED pathology; and (3) develop and apply polygenic risk scores for AI and ED pathology to more comprehensively examine the genetic etiology of these behaviors. This research will provide crucial information to explicate the comorbidity between AI and ED pathology, as well as ultimately assist in developing targeted prevention strategies and enhance early detection and tailored interventions for these debilitating behaviors. Environment: The research and training will occur primarily at UNC-CH and secondarily at Washington University in St. Louis, MO (Department of Psychiatry). Training at both institutions is essential in order to work with the statisticians who are at the forefront of applying the methods proposed here to both AI and ED pathology. Mentors and Collaborators/Consultants: The mentorship team includes primary mentor, Dr. Cynthia Bulik, a clinical adolescent psychologist, internationally recognized ED specialist, and co-chair of the PGC-Eating Disorders working group; and co-mentor, Dr. Arpana Agrawal, a genetic and psychiatric epidemiologist, internationally recognized alcohol and substance use specialist, and co-chair of the PGC-Substance Use Disorders working group. Collaborators/consultants are: Dr. Andrea Hussong (developmental psychologist specializing in substance use and developmental trajectories); Dr. Paul Lichtenstein (genetic epidemiologist and CATSS PI); Dr. Kari North (genetic epidemiologist specializing in GWAS); and Dr. Benjamin Neale (statistical geneticist specializing in novel genomic analyses).

Public Health Relevance

In current clinical practice, comorbid eating disorder (in alcohol use disorder treatment) and alcohol use disorder (in eating disorder treatment) is often overlooked, despite their high personal and societal costs. Although these disorders are often comorbid, research over the past 30 years has focused primarily on environmental factors that contribute to the association, despite emerging evidence indicating shared genetic risk. A better understanding of how shared genetic and environmental risks for the disorders interact could ultimately assist in developing targeted prevention strategies, and to enhance early detection and tailored interventions for these debilitating behaviors.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Research Scientist Development Award - Research & Training (K01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZAA1)
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Castle, I-Jen
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University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Schools of Medicine
Chapel Hill
United States
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Baker, Jessica H; Brosof, Leigh C; Munn-Chernoff, Melissa A et al. (2018) Associations Between Alcohol Involvement and Drive for Thinness and Body Dissatisfaction in Adolescent Twins: A Bivariate Twin Study. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 42:2214-2223
Baker, Jessica H; Johnson, Nicole K; Munn-Chernoff, Melissa A et al. (2018) Illicit Drug Use, Cigarette Smoking, and Eating Disorder Symptoms: Associations in an Adolescent Twin Sample. J Stud Alcohol Drugs 79:720-724
Thornton, Laura M; Munn-Chernoff, Melissa A; Baker, Jessica H et al. (2018) The Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative (ANGI): Overview and methods. Contemp Clin Trials 74:61-69
Baker, Jessica H; Schaumberg, Katherine; Munn-Chernoff, Melissa A (2017) Genetics of Anorexia Nervosa. Curr Psychiatry Rep 19:84
Schaumberg, Katherine; Welch, Elisabeth; Breithaupt, Lauren et al. (2017) The Science Behind the Academy for Eating Disorders' Nine Truths About Eating Disorders. Eur Eat Disord Rev 25:432-450