Kaarina Kowalec

Kaarina Kowalec

Affiliated to Research
Visiting address: Nobels väg 12a, 17165 Solna
Postal address: C8 Medicinsk epidemiologi och biostatistik, C8 MEB I Lu Projektgrupp, 171 77 Stockholm

About me

  • I am a tenure-track Assistant Professor position at the Rady Faculty of 

  • Health Sciences at University of Manitoba and hold an Affiliated Research
    position at the Karolinska Institutet. My research aims to identify precision medicine approaches to neurological diseases and psychiatric disorders by combining genomics, biostatistics, and epidemiology, to advance the outcomes of those affected by neurological and psychiatric disorders. Our work regularly involves an extensive network of Canadian, American, Swedish, and other International collaborators. I am funded by the US Department of Defense, US NIMH and the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centres. We are a "dry-lab" focussed on computation and analysis, but collaborate with "wet-lab" groups internationally.


    During my postdoctoral and PhD studies, I held fellowships from the European Commission (Horizon-2020), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), including the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions-Horizon 2020 European Fellowship (€180K) and the Government of Canada Banting Fellowship, with over 20 awards during my PhD alone, totalling over $960K in personal salary awards, and $1.8M in peer-reviewed operating and team grants. From 2017-19, I was a Postdoctoral researcher at the Karolinska Institute with Professor Patrick Sullivan and the KI-Psychiatric Genomics Institute to harness my collaborative, problem-solving abilities that I have developed during my doctoral training and apply them to the intricate issues faced today by the psychiatric community. My projects involved utilizing the Swedish National Register data, the Sweden Schizophrenia Study, and other psychiatric cohort studies.

Research

  • Theme 1: Epidemiology and genomics of poor outcomes in schizophrenia
    Schizophrenia (SCZ) is one of the top 15 leading causes of disability worldwide, with the average number of life years lost ~30 years. Those with SCZ are at 15-25 times higher risk for suicide, compared to the general population. It is currently estimated that ~200, 000 Canadians have SCZ. In 2004, the direct healthcare and non-healthcare costs related to SCZ in Canada were estimated at >
  • $2B, and when considering additional losses, resulted in a total cost estimate of $6.85B. Features associated with poor outcomes in SCZ include childhood adversities (e.g. neglect), family history of psychiatric disorders, and SCZ genomic burden (the weighted sum of the number of SCZ genetic risk variants within each individual). There are currently no means of predicting, at first clinical presentation, who will experience a poor outcome in SCZ. 
  • Our overall goal is early detection of those at high risk for poor outcomes in SCZ, thereby triggering logical and effective interventions to mitigate the personal, social, and societal costs associated with severe SCZ. 
  • Our 
  • overarching translational goal 
  • is to develop valid and clinically useful models that predict crucial clinical outcomes for psychiatry and to implement the predictive models on a provincial and national scale.

    Projects:
    1. Investigating the association between accelerated DNA methylation age and mortality in SCZ. This work is published in 
    2. Translational Psychiatry.
    3. Using population-based Swedish National register data and extensive genomic data to examine treatment resistance in schizophrenia (published in 
    4. Molecular Psychiatry).​​
    5. Investigating the role of genetic variation in association with specific and all cause mortality in schizophrenia. This work is published in 
    6. Translation Psychiatry.

 

  • Theme 2: Epidemiology and genomics of poor outcomes in multiple sclerosis (MS) and other chronic immunoinflammatory diseases

    The prevention of poor outcomes, such as serious adverse drug reactions associated with MS therapies or the development of psychiatric disorders, is essential for those with MS and other chronic immunoinflammatory diseases. Currently, there are few clinically useful predictors of poor outcomes in MS. Variability in the genes that underscore drug biotransformation may be the key to identifying and predicting who is at greatest risk of serious adverse drug reactions and likewise, investigating the genes that underlie polygenic traits like psychiatric disorders, may also be important in investigating those at greatest risk for a psychiatric disorder. Findings from our cutting-edge work (published in 
  • Nature Genetics,  
  • Neurology,  
  • BMJ Open,  
  • Expert Opinion in Drug Safety,  
  • and 
  • MS and Related Disorders) could improve outcomes in MS and contribute to the future development of precision medicine approaches to MS and other autoimmune diseases.

    Projects:
    1. Understanding psychiatric comorbidity in chronic immunoinflammatory diseases using genomics​: 
    2. ​We published work modelling longitudinal 
    3. depressive symptoms in IMID 
    4. to understand their evolution and identify any associated factors (including polygenic risk scores), with the overall goal of identifying those at highest risk of higher depressive symptom burden. This work is published in 
    5. General Hospital Psychiatry. We then followed this with an assessment of depression polygenicity in multiple sclerosis and this work is published 
    6. in 
    7. Neurology and an assessment of anxiety polygenicity in MS, published in 
    8. ACTN. We also aimed to better understand the bidirectional 
    9. relationship 
    10. between multiple sclerosis and depression using Mendelian randomization and found 
    11. no evidence for a causal role for this 
    12. relationship. This was published in 
    13. MSJ.
    14. Understanding factors associated with substance use disorder in those with inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis in Manitoba. These 
    15. projects are now 
    16. published 
    17. in 
    18. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases 
    19. and 
    20. ACR Open.
    21. Genomic variants associated with DMF induced lymphopenia in MS [GenDMF-MS]: Seeking to predict and ultimately prevent adverse drug reactions in people with MS. 
    22. An international pharmacogenomic investigation of lymphopenia due to dimethyl fumarate in multiple sclerosis, funded by the 
    23. National MS Society. The protocol for this work can be found 
    24. here 
    25. and the project is in the analysis stage.
  • Teaching

    • 2024

      • Course Coordinator, College of Pharmacy, University of Manitoba PHMD2012: Instructed ~50 PharmD students in Pharmacogenetics (26 lectures of 60-minutes each).
      • Lecturer, College of Pharmacy, University of Manitoba PHMD2004: 
      • Instructed ~50 students in Critical Appraisal Pharmacotherapy Literature 1 (One 3-hour lecture)
      • Mentor,  
      • College of Pharmacy, University of Manitoba PHMD4000: Instructed 6 fourth year PharmD students in a research project (12 weeks each).

      2023

      • Course Coordinator, College of Pharmacy, University of Manitoba PHMD2012: 
      • Instructed 35 PharmD students in Pharmacogenetics (26 lectures of 60-minutes each).
      • Lecturer, College of Pharmacy, University of Manitoba PHRM7102: 
      • Instructed 8 graduate students in Pharmacoepidemiology (One 3-hour lecture).

      2022

      • Course Coordinator, College of Pharmacy, University of Manitoba PHMD2012: Instructed 55 PharmD students in Pharmacogenetics (26 lectures of 60-minutes each).
      • Mentor, College of Pharmacy, University of Manitoba PHMD4000: Instructed two fourth year PharmD students in a research project (12 weeks each).

      2021

      • Lecturer, College of Pharmacy, University of Manitoba 
      • PHMD2012: Planned the course syllabus and pre-recorded 10 lectures to be given as part of the Pharmacogenetics course (60-minutes each).

      2020

      • Lecturer, College of Pharmacy, University of Manitoba 
      • PHRM3640: Instructed 55 undergraduate Pharmacy students in Principles of Biotechnology (8 lectures of 75-minutes each).

      2019

      • Lecturer, College of Pharmacy, University of Manitoba 
      • PHRM4470: Current Topics in Pharmacy (1 hour)
      • Lecturer, College of Pharmacy, University of Manitoba 
      • PHRM7260: Instructed 1 lecture of Pharmacy Graduate Student Seminar (1 hour)
      • Lecturer, College of Pharmacy, University of Manitoba 
      • PHRM3520: Instructed 55 undergraduate Pharmacy students in Scientific Literature Evaluation (5 lectures of 90-minutes each).
      • Lecturer, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Karolinska Institutet: Instructed 20 researchers in R-Statistical Software tutoria
      • Teaching and Learning Certificate, University of Manitoba: Two-year program designed to develop the knowledge, skills, and reflective practice.

      2012-2016

      • Teaching Assistant, Department of Biochemistry &
      • Molecular Biology, Faculty of Science, UBC: 
      • Instructed undergraduate weekly laboratory session
      • monitored and assisted student biochemical and molecular biology experiments
      • evaluated student assignments, examinations, and progress
      • consistently rated highly amongst third-year undergraduate students.

      2011-2012

      • Laboratory Instructor, Biology Program, Faculty of Science, UBC: BIOL 140 Laboratory 
      • Investigations in Life Science: Instructed weekly laboratory sessions and preparatory sessions to enable students to participate in the scientific process
      • facilitated discussions with students and recorded student progress
      • assessed student work (assignments, written work, exams) and kept accurate records of student attendance, participation, and marks.

      2008-2009

      • Problem-Based Learning Facilitator, Rady College of Medicine, Department of Medical Microbiology, University of Manitoba

    Articles

    All other publications

    Grants

    • Capitalising on our differences: A gathering to better understand and advocate for Early Career Health Researchers in Canada
      Canadian Institutes of Health Research
      1 January 2023 - 31 December 2023
    • Precision Genomics Suite
      Canada Foundation for Innovation
      22 November 2022
    • Psychiatric Disorder Genomic Risk Scores as a Correlate of Disease Activity and Progression in Multiple Sclerosis
      Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs
      15 July 2020 - 14 July 2022
    • Enhancing CAN-AIM capacity to respond to drug safety and effectiveness queries
      Canadian Institutes of Health Research
      1 September 2019 - 31 August 2022
    • Identifying Clinical, Demographic, & Genomic Risk Factors for Treatment-Resistant Psychiatric Disorders
      Canadian Institutes of Health Research
      1 April 2018 - 3 January 2019
    • The Drug Safety and Effectiveness Cross-Disciplinary Training (DSECT) Program
      Canadian Institutes of Health Research
      1 November 2015 - 28 February 2022
    • Genotype specific approaches to beta-interferon therapy in Multiple Sclerosis
      Canadian Institutes of Health Research
      1 May 2011 - 31 October 2014

    Employments

    • Assistant Professor, Genetics, University of Manitoba, 2019-
    • Affiliated to Research, Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, 2022-2025

    Degrees and Education

    • PhD, Genetics and epidemiology, University of British Columbia, 2016
    • MSc, Viral genetics, University of Manitoba, 2011
    • BSc, Microbiology, University of Manitoba, 2008

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