New group leaders to join IMB’s fight against disease

2 August 2016

IMB has welcomed three new research groups to bolster its investigations into neurological and psychiatric disorders, including motor neuron disease, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, autism and schizophrenia.

Professor Peter Visscher, Professor Naomi Wray and Associate Professor Jian Yang—who have been awarded more than $15 million in research funding since 2010—bring to IMB a wealth of experience in complex disease research.

IMB’s latest recruits, and their outstanding research teams, will analyse massive sets of DNA data collected from hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.

Technology from the last decade has produced vast amounts of data that has the potential to identify causes and treatments for diseases. However, processing and making sense of these ‘big data’ is a global challenge.

The new researchers will devise methods and tools that can be delivered through computer software to enable researchers to analyse their own massive data sets.

Professor Wray said this had the potential to transform the way researchers investigated common diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cancers.

“Researchers worldwide will be able to integrate our new methods with their existing work across the full range of common diseases,” she said.

IMB Director Professor Brandon Wainwright said the talented new teams would help IMB lead the revolution towards personalised medicine.

“Traditional therapeutic treatments often adopt a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, but the combination of new data and new methods is taking us into an era of personalised and precision treatments based on an individual’s genes, which has the potential to have major impact in health care,” he said.

“IMB is expanding Australia’s reputation as an expert in statistical genomics, and we are excited to see the globally significant outcomes that our new teams will produce.”

Professors Wray and Visscher and Associate Professor Yang will be based at IMB and hold joint appointments with UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute.

To read about the talents and expertise of the research groups moving to IMB see

Team biographies

Naomi WrayProfessor Naomi Wray is an NHMRC Principal Research Fellow and was elected this year as Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science. Her early training was in theoretical quantitative genetics applied to livestock. For the last 15 years her research has focused on understanding the genetics that contribute to diseases with particular application to psychiatric disorders. In addition to the NHMRC Program Grant on Complex Trait Genomics 2017-2021 with Visscher and Yang, she brings major grant funding from the MND Research Institute Australia and the Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism.

Peter VisscherProfessor Peter Visscher is an NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow. He was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2010 and is a Thomson Reuters "Highly Cited" researcher. His broad interest is to understand individual differences between people that are caused by genetic factors. His research program focuses on applying new methods and new kinds of genetic and genomic data to answer important scientific questions.

Jian YangAssociate Professor Jian Yang received his PhD in 2008 from Zhejiang University, China, which was followed by postdoctoral research at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research. He joined The University of Queensland in 2012. His research interests are in developing novel methods and software tools to better understand the genetic architecture of complex diseases and traits using high-throughput genetic and genomic data. In 2012, he won the Centenary Institute Lawrence Creative Prize, which is awarded annually to only one young medical researcher in Australia. He received a NHMRC RD Wright Career Development Fellowship in the same year. He was one of two recipients of the Sylvia and Charles Viertel Charitable Foundation¹s Senior Medical Research Fellowship in 2013, and was awarded the Australian Academy of Science Ruth Stephens Gani Medal for distinguished research in human genetics in 2015.