The focus of my research is at the intersection between genetics, psychiatry, and neurology. Many neurological disorders are highly comorbid with psychiatric disorders, but the cause of this comorbidity is unknown. Possible explanations include a reaction to having a chronic stigmatizing disorder (i.e., reactive effects), a common pathophysiological pathway, treatment effects (i.e., iatrogenic), and a shared etiology. Using genetic information, the goal of my research is to distinguish among these hypotheses and, in particular, to test the hypothesis that the comorbidity is due, in part, to a shared genetic susceptibility.
We are investigating genetics of Tourette's Disorder (TD) and associated disorders. TD is a developmental neuropsychiatric syndrome characterized by persistent vocal and motor tics. Family, segregation and twin studies consistently indicate that genetic factors play a significant role in the etiology of TD. Although there have been some initial positive findings, identification of replicable susceptibility alleles has thus far remained elusive. In 2007, we established the New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome Sharing Repository; a cell and DNA repository for Tourette Syndrome and associated disorders. In 2011, we received NIMH funding to establish the Tourette International Collaborative Genetics (TIC Genetics), the largest sharing cell and DNA repository for TD. It is located within the NIMH Center for Collaborative Genetic Research on Mental Disorders at Rutgers University. This is an international collaboration of clinicians, geneticists, and statisticians from the US, Europe, and South Korea. The goal of this repository is identify genetic factors that play a role in causing TD and associated disorders.
I am also investigating the genetic relationship between epilepsy and depression. Depression is the most common comorbid condition in epilepsy, affecting between 20-55% of patients with refractory epilepsy and 3-9% of patients with well-controlled seizures. The cause of this comorbidity is unknown. We are conducting a series of genetic epidemiologic studies to test the hypothesis that the comorbidity is due, in part, to a shared genetic susceptibility. Identifying a shared genetic susceptibility would help identify individuals at high risk for both disorders, allow for early intervention, and increase understanding of pathogenesis.
Depression and anxiety are some of the most common non-motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease (PD). They often precede the onset of the motor symptoms and impact the quality of life of individuals with PD. In collaboration with the New York Beth Israel Medical Center and Columbia University Medical Center in NYC, we are investigating various clinical manifestations, including psychiatric symptoms, in a genetic form of PD.
Dr. Heiman is the Director of the Genetic Counseling Certificate Program (GCCP) and the Departmental advisor for Genetic Counseling. The undergraduate GCCP program is intended for students interested in applying to graduate schools in Genetic Counseling. The goal of this program is to provide students with guidance and relevant experience that will help prepare students for graduate school applications. Specifically, the program provides students with an understanding of genetic counseling career, ensuring that students understand course prerequisites for various masters-level programs, and facilitating a short rotation with Genetic Counselor.
Dr. Heiman is a fellow and an officer of the American Psychopathological Association. He is also the chair of the Columbia University Seminar in Genetic Epidemiology. The purpose of this seminar is to bring together researchers in human genetics, epidemiology, and related disciplines, to discuss issues of common interest including genetic and environmental contributions to disease, and gene-environment interaction.