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Systems medicine insights on the depression-obesity comorbidity (Prof. Ferran Sanz)

The Research Programme on Biomedical Informatics (GRIB, UPF-IMIM) is seeking candidates to apply for a PhD studentship from the INPhINIT "La Caixa" Fellowship Programme.

The selected candidate will join the Integrative Biomedical Informatics research group of GRIB located at the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB).

Project Description

Epidemiological and clinical studies have shown a high and growing prevalence of the co-occurrence of major depression and obesity. Such comorbidity has a great impact on the management of these health disorders, as well as on the development of multimorbidities, which involve diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, articular diseases and chronic pain among others, and imply high healthcare and social costs. There are several aspects of the depression and obesity comorbidity that require further research, such as the pathophysiological mechanisms involved, including those related to the pharmacological treatments, the role of the adverse metabolic profile and visceral fat accumulation in the development of depression, and the identification of useful biomarkers.

On the other hand, there is a clear need of methodological and practical efforts for achieving a holistic, systems medicine perspective of the comorbidities. The host bioinformatics lab has been developing comprehensive databases of gene-disease associations (e.g. DisGeNET1), strategies for the analysis of comorbidities based on biological networks that include pharmacological information2,3, software for the comorbidity analysis and visualisation including the comparison of clinical and molecular diseasomes (comprehensive views on the disorders and diseases of an organism from the clinical and genetic perspectives) (e.g. comoRbidity4).

The proposed project aims to decipher the pathophysiological mechanisms underlying the comorbidity of depression and obesity, as well as the influence of antidepressant treatments in the development of obesity by applying a systems medicine approach that combine bioinformatics and experimental "in vivo" studies. The analysis of the role of the proteins in the biological networks will be used to prioritize proteins as potential comorbidity biomarkers, which will be experimentally assessed.

Position Description

The proposed job position offers the opportunity of carrying out an interdisciplinary PhD thesis that combines bioinformatics research with experimental behavioral and molecular studies conducted in internationally recognized labs in such fields. The multidisciplinary research training that will be provided will result in an infrequent expertise that will yield competitive advantages for the future professional development of the awardee.

The awardee will apply bioinformatics methods and tools developed in the host bioinformatics lab for proposing new mechanistic hypothesis based on biological networks for the understanding of the depression-obesity comorbidity. He or she will also contribute to further development of the aforementioned methods and tools. Moreover, the pre-doctoral scientist will develop experimental work in O. Valverde's lab to assess the proposed mechanistic hypothesis and to generate new evidences, which, in turn, will be bioinformatically substantiated in the framework of an iterative synergistic process.

The awardee will carry out experimental studies using animal models of obesity and depression developed in Valverde's labs5,6. Genetically modified mice, including lines of animals resistant to body weight gain will be used. Behavioral, neurochemical and molecular studies will be carried out including mRNA-Seq analyses in brain regions.

(1)    Piñero J et al. Nucleic Acids Res. 2017; 45:D833.

(2)    Rubio-Perez C et al. Sci Rep. 2017; 7:6207.

(3)    Aguirre-Plans et al. Pharmaceuticals (Basel). 2018; 11:E61

(4)    Gutiérrez-Sacristán A et al. Bioinformatics. 2018; 34:3228.

(5)   Blanco-Gandía MC et al. 2017; 113(Pt A):31.

(6)    Portero-Tresserra M et al. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2018; 28:499.


Research Group on Neurobiology of Behaviour (GReNeC)-NeuroBio, DCEXS, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona (Spain). This website describes the research group led by Olga Valverde that will collaborate in the present project.

UPF Doctoral Programme in Biomedicine;


Barcelona Biomedical Research Park;

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