- PhD, Behavioral Genetics/Psychology, University of Colorado, Boulder
Genetics of autism, suicide risk, nicotine dependence, and obesity; application of statistical methods to genetic data
Hilary Coon's primary research interests within the Department of Psychiatry include finding genes that lead to susceptibility to autism and, genetic risk factors for suicide, and the genetics of nicotine and alcohol addiction. Work to achieve these goals is accomplished through collaborations with national, and international collaborators, and locally through analyses of extended families ascertained through the Utah Population Data Base (UPDB). Gene findings may lead to better understanding of underlying mechanisms. Intermediate traits and co-morbid conditions associated with disease have also been a focus of Dr. Coon's research. Traits that are correlated with disease are often observed at increased rates also in clinically unaffected family members. These traits may indicate the presence of relatively common gene changes that, together with other genetic and environmental factors, contribute to increased risk of carrying a diagnosis. In addition, appearance of particular traits or co-morbid conditions in affected pedigree members and their clinically unaffected relatives may indicate particular genetic subtypes of disease present in the family. The study of these phenotypes within families may reveal susceptibility mutations that would otherwise not be detected. Pedigrees also offer a chance to study protective mechanisms in unaffected relatives, and environmental exposures that may be particularly important for genetically susceptible individuals. Interests outside the Psychiatry Department include the development and application of statistical methods to genetic and phenotypic data, cardiovascular genetics, genetics of obesity, and genetics of lung disorders. Dr. Coon is also interested in research ethics, and is a long time member of the University of Utah Institutional Review Board.