VIPBG News

The Genetic Underpinnings Of PTSD And Stress-Related Drinking

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Dr. Ananda Amstadter, Ph.D. is Associate Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Human and Molecular Genetics. Her interests in the field of psychiatric genetics began when she worked as a research assistant during her undergraduate years. While coding archived assessments of women with borderline personality disorder, she was struck by the number of these women who had a history of trauma. These experiences launched her interest in traumatic stress psychopathology and her desire to fully understand the genetic and environmental factors contributing to its etiology. She then earned her PhD in clinical psychology from Auburn University, where she studied endocrine factors involved in the development of PTSD. Following completion of her internship and several years on the faculty at the Medical University of South Carolina, she was recruited to the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics.

Dr. Amstadter’s current research interests involve the intersection between PTSD and stress-related drinking. Despite both phenotypes being moderately heritable, there has been limited success in identifying the genetic underpinnings of either. She is particularly interested in examining whether drinking to cope with trauma or PTSD may serve as a pathway to alcohol use disorder. Dr. Amstadter’s lab members work on a variety of projects related to traumatic stress and PTSD, such as resilience, sleep problems, depression, and substance use.

Because of Dr. Amstadter’s dedication to mentoring trainees of all levels both inside and outside of her lab, she was recently awarded the 2016 VIPBG Mentor Award. Dr. Christina Sheerin, a post-doctoral fellow in the lab, nominated her for the award. She says, “Her dedication to training and the time she spends with her trainees is invaluable. I would not have had the research and job opportunities I have been given if it were not for her constant support of my work and of my development as a researcher and professional. Dr. Amstadter creates an atmosphere that is productive, efficient, and task oriented as well as friendly, open, and with an eye towards broad training helping to build a knowledge base and by focusing on our own career development.

Outside of research and mentoring, Dr. Amstadter enjoys teaching exercise classes, long-distance bike riding, and horse riding. She also enjoys spending time with her new baby, Asher, and her husband.

Article by Elizabeth Long.

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