Computational psychiatry and genomics in the Michaelson Lab

We are interested in the use of computing to improve the understanding, diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment of neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental conditions. To do this, we build predictive models that draw on a wide variety of data types: including genomics, medical records, imaging, body movement, and standardized test scores, among many others. We have extramurally-supported research programs involving computational methodology, human subjects research, and animal models.


Currently, our research projects focus on:

Genetics and comorbidities of autism: As a clinical partner in the nationwide study SPARK, we are helping to build the largest study of autism genetics ever. Funded by the Simons Foundation, SPARK aims to enroll 50,000 individuals with autism and their families into a hugely collaborative study in order to learn more about the biology of autism and how that affects the health and well-being of people on the spectrum. In a related project, we will be collecting data from SPARK participants about any eating and sleeping disturbances in order to gain a better understanding of the factors leading to these common medical conditions in people with autism.

Genetics of language impairment: In this NIDCD/NICHD-supported project, we are performing whole-genome sequencing of a cohort of Iowa children with language impairment (collected by UI collaborator Bruce Tomblin), where we hope to identify genes and mutations involved in the acquisition and use of language. We hope that research in this area will eventually help to further refine the categorization of language pathology so that therapies can be more targeted and effective.

Predictions of top autism gene candidates: Using machine learning methods in combination with several autism genetics databases, we are working to predict which genes are most likely to be recognized as related to autism development. 

Genetics of twice-exceptionality: The goal of this research, in collaboration with the Belin-Blank Center and the Iowa Neuroscience Institute, is to learn more about the genetics and biology of individuals who are “twice-exceptional” - that is, people who have high abilities (gifted) and who are also impacted by a neurodevelopmental condition like autism, ADHD, or learning impairment. These individuals often do not receive the help that they need because their high abilities mask their difficulties. By learning more about what makes someone twice-exceptional, we hope to facilitate earlier and more personalized interventions for these individuals.

Other areas of interest include: sex-by-genotype interactions and sex-specific effects in neurodevelopment, as well as translational genetics. We are constantly forming on and off-campus collaborations to further these and other areas of interest. 

"Ada Lovelace," created by Gaby D'Alessandro for the Michaelson Lab 

Widely regarded as the first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) saw the potential for "computing machines" to be used for more than just complex calculations before many of her contemporaries. With her connections to programming and psychiatry (through the mental illness of her father, Lord Byron), Lovelace is a representative figure for our computational psychiatry research.