Lei Cao

Lei Cao - Photo credit Weam Fageera

Stagiaire post-doctorale en vedette de mai 2017

Superviseur
Suzanne King 

Co-Superviseur
Moshe Szyf 

Niveau d'études
Postdoctoral Fellow,  Year 5 

Programme d'études
Effect of prenatal maternal stress on children's DNA methylation profile and physical development. 

(Note: les questions sont traduites, mais nous présentons les réponses en version originale)

Pourquoi avez-vous choisi de vous joindre au Douglas?

Dr. Suzanne King’s Project Ice Storm is the first study that allows us to explore epigenetics in a human cohort exposed to prenatal stress derived from a natural disaster. Moreover, the Douglas Institute has an increasingly strong international reputation, and is one of the top Research Institutes in Canada. 

Que faisiez-vous avant de venir au Douglas?

I did my PhD study in University of Trier in Germany and Public Research Center and the Health Laboratory in Luxembourg. My project was transcriptional control of human Glucocorticoid Receptor (GR).

Dites-nous du bien de votre recherche en trois phrases ou moins.

My research focuses on the effect of prenatal maternal stress derived from a natural disaster on child development using (epi)genetic approaches. This is very important research because using the natural disaster (the 1998 Quebec Ice Storm) as our prenatal “stressor” allows us to distinguish between different aspects of prenatal stress: what happened to the women objectively (e.g., the number of days without electricity), compared to how they thought about the disaster (e.g., “It was a positive experience”), and their subjective distress from it (e.g., “I have flashbacks to the storm”). No other project in the world is able to make these important distinctions, and we are finding that they have different effects on the epigenome.

Qu’est ce qui vous excite le plus par rapport à votre recherche?

The human cohort used in my research has been followed for almost 20 years. Working with this longitudinal study makes me feel excited. We have found that two aspects of prenatal stress, the objective degree of exposure and the women’s cognitive appraisal, impacted genome-wide DNA methylation profile in T-cells of Ice Storm children, and could still be seen at least 13.5 years later. Furthermore, we found that DNA methylation mediates the association between prenatal stress and child’s outcomes, such as immune and metabolic function. 

Si vous pouviez remonter dans le temps, que changeriez-vous?

The advice I’d like to give my younger self is to stay open-minded and to consider my specific research with a multi-disciplinary outlook. 

Des conseils pour des étudiants ou stagiaires intéressés à se joindre au Douglas?

Research life is challenging, but be confident, patient and have fun!