News and Events

What’s New

Liming Liang promoted to Associate ProfessorLimingLiang

Congratulations to Dr. Liming Liang, who was promoted to Associate Professor in the Fall of 2015. Dr. Liang has been with PGSG since 2009. His research focuses primarily on developing the computational and statistical tools required for understanding human genetic variation, with a particular focus on complex human disease.


Hugues Aschard promoted to Research Scientist

Congratulations to Dr. Hugo Aschard, who was promoted from Research Associate to Hugo AschardResearch Scientist in Fall 2015. Dr. Aschard has been at HSPH since 2010, when he began his postdoc with PGSG Director Peter Kraft. His research explores computational and statistical methods to decipher the genetic architecture of multifactorial traits, with an emphasis on integrative analysis of biological, clinical and environmental data and the evaluation of their potential interactions.



New faces

Get to know the many new faces of  PGSG.  Faculty members Timothy Rebbeck, Lori Chibnik and Kathryn Penney have all joined PGSG in recent months, as have several new postdoctoral fellows and  visiting researchers. The program’s growth reflects the expertise of its members and impressive impact of the research they conduct on the scientific community.




Congratulations to Alkes Price, who received the NSF CAREER Award for his work on “Resources for mixed model association mapping of complex traits.” The CAREER program is one of the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards; it supports junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.


Postdoc Sasha Gusev received the 2015 ASHG Charles J. Epstein Trainee Award for his work, “Large-scale transcriptome-wide association study identifies new risk genes for obesity-related traits.”  The award is given to the top 6 (out of over 3,000) abstracts submitted to the annual ASHG meeting.



Summer 2015

Peter Kraft is co-author on a recently published paper in Nature, “Directional dominance on stature and cognition in diverse human populations.”  The study examined runs of homozygosity of 16 health-related quantitative traits in 354,224 individuals from 102 cohorts, and found statistically significant associations between summed runs of homozygosity and four complex traits: height, forced expiratory lung volume in one second, general cognitive ability and educational attainment. The full article can be accessed here.

A new paper on “Modeling linkage disequilibrium increases accuracy of polygenic risk scores” has been accepted by AJHG. Led by former PGSG postdoc Bjarni Vilhjalmsson, this work introduces a new method of calculating polygenic risk scores, LDpred, which infers the posterior mean effect size of each marker using a prior on effect sizes and LD information from an external reference panel.  Numerous PGSGers, past and present, were closely involved in this work.

Over a dozen PGSGers have been selected to present their work at this year’s ASHG conference in Baltimore.  In addition, postdoc Sasha Gusev has been selected as a finalist for the ASHG Epstein Trainee Award for Excellence in Human Genetics Research; and Gaurav Bhatia, Pier Palamara, Po-Ru Loh and doctoral students Kevin Galinsky  and Tris Hayeck were all selected as semi-finalists. Click here to see detailed talk and poster information. Congratulations to all!

Two papers written by Price lab members have recently been accepted by Nature Genetics. Finucane et al., in press, is titled “Partitioning heritability by functional category using GWAS summary statistics”; and Bulik-Sullivan et al. in press, is written on “An atlas of genetic correlations across human diseases and traits.”



Commencement 2015

2015 graduates and faculty advisors.

2015 graduates and faculty advisors.

Congratulations to Drs. Akweley Ablorh, Alexis Carere, Zhonghua Liu, and Shasha Meng, who all graduated and received their doctoral degrees today after years of hard work.  We know they will continue to do great research in the future and we wish them the best of luck.



News Features

Peter Kraft, David Hunter, and Sara Lindstroem are authors on a new paper out in JNCI in April 2015 that identifies new genetic markers of breast cancer survival.  Survival after diagnosis of breast cancer varies considerably between patients, and some of this variation may be because of germline genetic variation.  This research is currently the largest study investigating genetic variation associated with breast cancer survival.  The full article can be read here.

Liming Liang is first author of a new EWAS study published in Nature, “An epigenome-wide association study of total serum immunoglobulin E concentration,” featured on the HSPH news website.  The researchers have discovered more than 30 genes that have strong effects on Immunoglobulin E (IgE- the antibody that triggers allergic responses), allergies and asthma. Amongst the genes are promising novel drug targets for treating allergies and asthma.  The full article can be read here.

Immaculata De Vivo and collaborators have a paper just out in JAMA which found that patients who receive bone marrow transplants from donors with longer telomeres have a higher probability of survival over a 5-year period. The results of this observational study suggest that donor leukocyte telomere length may have a role in long-term post-transplant survival. Read the full article here.

Alkes Price is featured in the HSPH News for his recent work on “Leveraging population admixture to characterize the heritability of complex traits,” published in Nature Genetics.  Read the full profile here.

Immaculata De Vivo and Marta Crous Bou have a new paper featured in the December edition of the British Medical Journal.  Their work examines genetic factors that may contribute to the link between the Mediterranean diet and longer telomeres, using data from the Nurses’ Health Study.  The full editorial can be read here.



PGSGers have had an impressive number of papers published recently in high-impact journals. Sara Lindström and Rulla Tamimi are first and last authors on a new paper in Nature Communications that identified multiple loci associated with both mammographic density and breast cancer risk; Price lab members have a new paper, “Leveraging population admixture to characterize the heritability of complex traits,” published in Nature Genetics; Postdoc Gaurav Bhatia had his paper on directional selection in African-Americans published in AJHG; Amit Joshi and Peter Kraft are first and last authors on their work published in the American Journal of Epidemiology examining additive interactions and breast cancer risk; “Variation in Predictive Ability of Common Genetic Variants by Established Strata: The Example of Breast Cancer and Age,” now published in Epidemiology, has an all-PGSG author list, led by Hugo Aschard; Jennifer Prescott is first author on a paper recently published in Frontiers in Oncology analyzing Vitamin D and ovarian cancer risk; Postdoc Sasha Gusev’s work on “Partitioning Heritability of Regulatory and Cell-Type-Specific Variants across 11 Common Diseases” was published in AJHG; Liming Liang is first author of a paper in press at Nature, “An Epigenome-Wide Association Study of Total Serum Immunoglobulin E Concentration” and co-first author of a paper in press at Human Molecular Genetics, “Meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies of adult height in East Asians identifies 17 novel loci”; Marta Crous Bou and Immaculata De Vivo’s paper, “Mediterranean diet and telomere length in the Nurses’ Health Study: Population-based cohort study,” is in press at BMJ; and postdoc Po-Ru Loh just had his paper on Bayesian mixed model analysis accepted in Nature Genetics.




PGSG research scientist Sara Lindstroem is PI of a new R21 grant, “Prioritizing Follow-up of GWAS Loci using Genetic and Functional Annotation Data.”

Rulla Tamimi is Co-PI on a new grant funded by Susan G. Komen for the Cure.  The study, “Environmental exposures, early proliferative changes and breast cancer risk,” will evaluate if environmental exposures and geographic variation over the life course are related to mammographic density, proliferative BBD and breast cancer risk, independent of individual level risk factors.  In addition, it also examines the associations of air pollution and UV-B with gene expression in normal (benign) breast tissue.  Dr. Tamimi will be working with Co-PI Francince Laden, Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at HSPH.

Alkes Price and Peter Kraft, in collaboration with Ben Neale and Shamil Sunyaev of the Broad Institute, received an R01 to develop statistical methods for studies of rare variants.

Jennifer Prescott, who has worked with Dr. De Vivo for several years as a research fellow and now an instructor, was awarded a new grant from the Harvard Transdisciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer (TREC) Center.  The title of the project is “Influence of a family history of Type 2 Diabetes on colorectal cancer risk and mortality, and on biomarkers of glycemic control, plasma lipids, and inflammatory biomarkers.”  The researchers hypothesize that increased insulin signaling increases the risk of colorectal cancer, based on previous studies that have shown healthy first-degree relatives of type 2 diabetics to have reduced insulin secretion due to impaired beta-cell function.  The project will explore whether a family history of type 2 diabetes is associated with reduced risk of colorectal cancer incidence and mortality, and/or alters biomarkers associated with insulin action in the NHS and HPFS cohorts.  Dr. Prescott will also explore whether a genetic risk score for type 2 diabetes is associated with colorectal cancer risk.

Postdoctoral fellow Amit Joshi also received grant funding from the TREC Center.  Dr. Joshi’s research project is entitled “Effect modification of association of GWAS-identified susceptibility SNPs for body mass index with post-menopausal breast cancer risk by physical activity.”  He will use data from the Nurses’ Health Study, which is one of the largest and longest running investigations of factors that influence women’s health.

Dr. Hugues Aschard, postdoctoral fellow under Dr. Kraft, was recently awarded grant 1R03HG006720-01A1, “Relaxing genetic models to identify genetic variants involved in gene-gene and gene-environment interactions.”  Dr. Aschard and his colleagues developed a non-parametric test of association that compares phenotypic distribution by genotypic classes, which aims to identify quantitative trait loci involved in interactions.  The aims of his grant are to identify potential technical improvements of the proposed method and to conduct real data application to identify genetic variants that have been missed by standard genome-wide association screening.