Posted by: Katy Brown, ASHG Career and Workforce Development Coordinator
It is well known that both nature and nurture play a large role in our long-term health outcomes. However, the gene by environment dynamics for many complex traits is still poorly understood. Justyna Resztak and colleagues added to this growing body of literature through their study by understanding the genetic effects of psychosocial experiences on asthma, a chronic inflammatory disorder that disproportionately affects low-income and underrepresented communities. Resztak et al. used various genomic approaches to identify causal associations with psychosocial experiences and asthma including machine learning, RNA-seq, a transcriptome-wide association study, and eQTL mapping. Together, the authors showed that the immune gene expression of psychosocial factors can modulate asthma, which can lead to more severe symptoms for children living in urban areas. This work further highlights the importance of studying both genomic and environmental data.
- Can you describe the type of research that has your primary focus? Justyna: Throughout my PhD work I explored the effects of genotype-by-environment interactions (GxE) on gene expression, and investigated their implications for immune disease risk. Specifically, I demonstrated inter-individual differences in blood gene expression response to molecular, endogenous and psychosocial (work featured here) environments, highlighting that all major factors known to contribute to disease risk and outcomes, such as age, sex, psychosocial environment, immune and drugs exposures, need to be examined in the context of each individual’s genetic makeup to inform precision medicine approaches.
- Throughout your life, what have been some of the biggest career goals that you have wanted to accomplish?
Justyna: Even before embarking on a PhD I knew I wanted my career to be in the industry, because I wanted my work to have an immediate and perceptible impact. I just started my first industry job as a Senior Scientist I at AbbVie where I analyze results of ‘omics experiments to help with drug discovery efforts. I would like the focus of my career for the next few years to be on supercharging drug discovery with the use of human genetics.
- What are some of the reasons you chose to study genetics instead of anything else?
Justyna: When I took genetics in high school I knew that was *it* – I wanted to work on deciphering this code to be able to predict human traits. I may have had an overly simplistic view of the field then, but now we know that all complex disease risk is the product of environmental factors interacting with genetic predispositions, and I think the key to disease treatment and prevention lies in understanding the interaction between our genome and environment.
- What are three words that describe the person that you are?
Justyna: Strategic, scientist, vegan