Behavioural Epidemiology and Genetics (BEG) group

We aim to understand the intersections of behaviour, cognition, mental health and physical illness. In particular we focus on intermediate traits of both mental and physical illness to explore the biology underlying the coexistence of these conditions.

We take a team science approach to achieve our aims, using epidemiology, statistical genetics, machine learning and neuroimaging methods with a range of data sources including electronic health records, adolescent and adult population studies and clinical cohorts. Key data sources used in our work include UK Biobank, ALSPAC, ABCD, Add Health, IMPROVE, GENIAL and Generation Scotland. We are among the leading contributors to the School's UK Biobank research group. We aim to share analytic code and summary statistics openly.

Photo of BEG group members in January 2024

Group members


Photo of Mark BaileyMark Bailey

I am Senior Lecturer in Molecular Genetics, with interests in the genetic basis for a range of human traits and disorders, both single gene and complex, focussing on brain- and body composition/performance-related phenotypes.


Photo of Breda CullenBreda Cullen

I am a Senior Lecturer in Clinical Psychology and a clinical neuropsychologist. My research focuses on understanding variation in cognitive function in chronic psychiatric and neurological disorders.


Photo of Donald LyallDonald Lyall

I am a Senior Lecturer in Population Brain Health and I am interested in cognitive ageing: its modifiers (e.g. genetics or lifestyle) and its substrates (e.g. brain structure).


Photo of Laura LyallLaura Lyall

I am a Research Fellow with a background in psychology, and my research focuses on understanding predictors of mental health, cognitive and brain imaging outcomes.


Photo of Claire NiedzwiedzClaire Niedzwiedz

I am a Lord Kelvin/Adam Smith Research Fellow based in General Practice and Primary Care. My research focuses on understanding the direct and indirect effects of climate change on mental health and wellbeing. My interests also include understanding and addressing health inequalities and the comorbidity between physical and mental illness.


Photo of Rona StrawbridgeRona Strawbridge

I am a Senior Lecturer in Mental Health and Wellbeing with a background in molecular genetics, and my current research focus is on using genetics to investigate the link between psychiatric disorders and cardiometabolic disease.



Photo of Joey WardJoey Ward

I am a postdoctoral researcher, and my research investigates how genetic risk for neuroticism and major depression influence response to antidepressants and longer-term clinical outcomes.



Photo of Alisha AmanAlisha Aman

I am an Associate in the School of Health and Wellbeing. My research focus is identifying causal genes, potential drug repurposing, and ADRs for mental illness and cardiovascular disease using quantitative trait loci and GWAS data.


Photo of Jana AndersonJana Anderson

I am a Research Fellow in Public Health, interested in understanding the link between diet and health in association with other lifestyle risk factors.


Photo of Ali GooyaAli Gooya

I am a Senior Lecturer in Machine Learning. My research interest broadly lies in machine learning, computer vision and medical imaging. I am particularly keen on deep probabilistic learning with target applications in cancer and cardiac image analysis, computer-aided decision support systems, prediction and marker discovery, statistical inference on populations, and computational anatomy.


Photo of Nicholas GrahamNicholas Graham

I am an Honorary Lecturer in Psychiatry, and my research focuses on understanding the relationship between mood disorder and cardiometabolic disease.


Research assistants and students

Photo of Reza Akbari MovahedReza Akbari Movahed

I am a PhD student in Computing Science. My research background lies in using machine learning and deep learning techniques to discover novel biological information and biomarkers for various diseases. Currently, I am working on cardiac motion abnormality assessment based on the sequences of cardiac magnetic resonance (CMR) images using novel deep learning models. 


Photo of Ahmed AlharthiAhmed Alharthi

I am a PhD student with a background in clinical pharmacology, interested in understanding the association between dementia and medication use through two distinct approaches: preventive (drug deprescribing) and therapeutic (drug repurposing), utilising UK Biobank data.


Photo of Natasha SanghaNatasha Sangha

I am an MRC-funded PhD student and Research Assistant with a background in data science and psychology. I am interested in using machine learning to understand predictors of mood disorders.


Photo of Yating YouYating You

I am a CSC-funded PhD student in Public Health with a background in epidemiology. My research focus is investigating the role of lifestyle factors in dementia using genetics and brain imaging data.


Photo of Mengrong ZhangMengrong Zhang

I am a CSC-funded PhD student with a background in bio-engineering and human nutrition. Now my area mainly focuses on how lifestyle factors moderate the association between genetic risk scores and cerebrovascular/cardiometabolic disease.


Photo of Xingxing ZhuXingxing Zhu

I am a Research Assistant in Public Health. My background is in neuroscience, focusing on how genetic risk factors act on mental disorders especially the potential roles of brain morphology and function.


Past members

Dr Amy Ferguson (University of Edinburgh)

Dr Keira Johnston (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai)

Dr Rachana Tank (UCSF)

Dr Ioana Stanciu (NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde)

Key publications

Niedzwiedz, C. L. , Aragón, M. J., Breedvelt, J. J. F., Smith, D. J. , Prady, S. L. and Jacobs, R. (2023) Severe and common mental disorders and risk of emergency hospital admissions for Ambulatory Care Sensitive Conditions (ACSCs) among the UK Biobank cohort. BJPsych Open, 9(6), e211. (doi: 10.1192/bjo.2023.602) (PMID:37933539)

Cullen, B. et al. (2023) Cognitive function in people with familial risk of depression. JAMA Psychiatry, (doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2023.0716) (PMID:37074691)

Aman, A. , Slob, E. A.W., Ward, J. , Cullen, B. , Graham, N., Lyall, D. M. , Sattar, N. and Strawbridge, R. J. (2022) Investigating the potential impact of PCSK9-inhibitors on mood disorders using eQTL-based Mendelian randomization. PLoS ONE, 17(12), e0279381. (doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0279381) (PMID:36580462) (PMCID:PMC9799310)

Strawbridge, R. J. et al. (2021) The overlap of genetic susceptibility to schizophrenia and cardiometabolic disease can be used to identify metabolically different groups of individuals. Scientific Reports, 11, 632. (doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-79964-x) (PMID:33436761) (PMCID:PMC7804422)

Zhu, X., Ward, J. , Cullen, B. , Lyall, D. M. , Strawbridge, R. J. , Lyall, L. M. and Smith, D. J. (2021) Phenotypic and genetic associations between anhedonia and brain structure in UK Biobank. Translational Psychiatry, 11, 395. (doi: 10.1038/s41398-021-01522-4) (PMID:34282121) (PMCID:PMC8289859)

Anderson, J. J. , Gray, S. R. , Welsh, P. , Mackay, D. F. , Celis-Morales, C. A. , Lyall, D. M. , Forbes, J., Sattar, N. , Gill, J. M.R. and Pell, J. P. (2020) The associations of sugar-sweetened, artificially sweetened and naturally sweet juices with all-cause mortality in 198,285 UK Biobank participants: a prospective cohort study. BMC Medicine, 18(1), 97. (doi: 10.1186/s12916-020-01554-5) (PMID:32326961)

Ward, J. et al. (2020) The genomic basis of mood instability: identification of 46 loci in 363,705 UK Biobank participants, genetic correlation with psychiatric disorders, and association with gene expression and function. Molecular Psychiatry, 25(11), pp. 3091-3099. (doi: 10.1038/s41380-019-0439-8) (PMID:31168069) (PMCID:PMC7116257)

Graham, N. A., Ward, J. , Mackay, D. , Pell, J. , Cavanagh, J. , Padmanabhan, S. and Smith, D. J. (2019) Impact of major depression on cardiovascular outcomes for individuals with hypertension: prospective survival analysis in UK Biobank. BMJ Open, 9(9), e024433. (doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-024433) (PMID:31575565) (PMCID:PMC6797415)

Lyall, D. M. et al. (2019) Assessing for interaction between APOE ε4, sex and lifestyle on cognitive abilities. Neurology, 92, e2691-e2698. (doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000007551) (PMID:31028125) (PMCID:PMC6556094)

Lyall, L. M. et al. (2018) Association of disrupted circadian rhythmicity with mood disorders, subjective wellbeing, and cognitive function: a cross-sectional study of 91 105 participants from the UK Biobank. Lancet Psychiatry, 5(6), pp. 507-514. (doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(18)30139-1) (PMID:29776774)

Research datasets

Johnston, K., Ward, J., Ray, P. R., Adams, M. J., McIntosh, A. M., Smith, B., Strawbridge, R. , Price, T. J., Smith, D. J., Nicholl, B. and Bailey, M. (2021) Sex-Stratified Genome-Wide Association Study of Multisite Chronic Pain in UK Biobank. [Data Collection]

Ward, J., Strawbridge, R. , Bailey, M. , Graham, N., Ferguson, A., Lyall, D. , Cullen, B. , Pidgeon, L., Cavanagh, J., Mackay, D. , Pell, J. , O'Donovan, M., Escott-Price, V. and Smith, D. (2020) Genome-wide analysis in UK Biobank identifies four loci associated with mood instability and genetic correlation with major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder and schizophrenia. [Data Collection]

Strawbridge, R. , Ward, J., Ferguson, A., Graham, N., Shaw, R. , Cullen, B. , Pearsall, R., Lyall, L., Johnston, K., Niedzwiedz, C. , Pell, J. , Mackay, D. , Martin, J., Lyall, D. , Bailey, M. and Smith, D. (2019) Identification of novel genome-wide associations for suicidality in UK Biobank, genetic correlation with psychiatric disorders and polygenic association with completed suicide. [Data Collection]

Ferguson, A., Lyall, L., Ward, J., Strawbridge, R. , Cullen, B. , Graham, N., Niedzwiedz, C. , Johnston, K., Mackay, D. , Biello, S. , Pell, J. , Cavanagh, J., McIntosh, A. M., Doherty, A., Bailey, M. , Lyall, D. , Wyse, C. and Smith, D. (2019) Genome-Wide Association Study of Circadian Rhythmicity in 71,500 UK Biobank Participants and Polygenic Association with Mood Instability. [Data Collection]

Strawbridge, R. , Ward, J., Lyall, L., Tunbridge, E. M., Cullen, B. , Graham, N., Ferguson, A., Johnston, K., Lyall, D. , Mackay, D. , Cavanagh, J., Howard, D. M., Adams, M. J., Deary, I., Escott-Price, V., O’Donovan, M., McIntosh, A. M., Bailey, M. , Pell, J. , Harrison, P. and Smith, D. (2019) Genetics of self-reported risk-taking behaviour, trans-ethnic consistency and relevance to brain gene expression. [Data Collection]

Ward, J., Lyall, L., Bethlehem, R. A. I., Ferguson, A., Strawbridge, R. , Lyall, D. , Cullen, B. , Graham, N., Johnston, K., Bailey, M. , Murray, G. K. and Smith, D. (2019) Novel genome-wide associations for anhedonia, genetic correlation with psychiatric disorders, and polygenic association with brain structure. [Data Collection]

Ward, J., Tunbridge, E. M., Sandor, C., Lyall, L., Ferguson, A., Strawbridge, R. , Lyall, D. , Cullen, B. , Graham, N., Johnston, K. J.A., Webber, C., Escott-Price, V., O’Donovan, M., Pell, J. , Bailey, M. , Harrison, P. J. and Smith, D. (2019) The genomic basis of mood instability: identification of 46 loci in 363,705 UK Biobank participants, genetic correlation with psychiatric disorders, and association with gene expression and function. [Data Collection]

Johnston, K., Adams, M. J., Nicholl, B. , Ward, J., Strawbridge, R. , Ferguson, A., McIntosh, A. M., Bailey, M. and Smith, D. (2019) Genome-wide association summary statistics for a genome-wide association study of multisite chronic pain. [Data Collection]

External collaborators

Professor Daniel Smith and Dr Heather Whalley, University of Edinburgh, UK

Associate Professors Bruna Gigante and Ingrid Dahlman, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden

Dr Maria Sabater Lleal, IIB-Sant Pau, Spain

Associate Professor Damiano Baldassarre, University of Milan, Italy

Dr Christopher Whelan, Biogen Pharmaceuticals, US