Danielle Dick, Ph.D.
Commonwealth Professor of Psychology, and Human & Molecular GeneticsVirginia Commonwealth University
My research focuses on how genetic and environmental influences contribute to the development of patterns of substance use and related behaviors, such as childhood conduct problems and depression, and how we can use that information to inform prevention and intervention. It integrates developmental and clinical psychology, behavior genetics/twin studies, and statistical genetics/gene identification. There are many active grants and projects in the group that span (1) twin studies (2) gene-identification projects and (3) community-based, longitudinal studies. We have studied samples of >10,000 twins from early in adolescence until young adulthood (the FinnTwin projects), collecting longitudinal data on health behaviors and personality traits at multiple assessments from age 12 to 25. We are currently studying how environmental risk factors, such as parental monitoring and home atmosphere, peers, and neighborhood influences, interact with genetic predispositions, and how this changes across development. In addition, I am involved in the Collaborative Study of the Genetics of Alcoholism, a project with the goal of identifying the specific genes involved in alcohol dependence and related disorders and characterizing their risk across development, and in conjunction with the environment. In addition, my lab coordinates the genotyping component of several longitudinal, developmental studies, with extensive phenotypic assessments spanning from early childhood to mid-adulthood. These include the Child Development Project, a sample of ~500 children followed with intensive annual assessments from kindergarten through age 25; the Mobile Youth Study, an on-going community-based sample of children ages 10-18 from high-risk, impoverished neighborhoods in Mobile, Alabama; the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, an epidemiological cohort of ~10,000 children enrolled when their mothers were pregnant and assessed yearly -- prenatally through young adulthood; and the Project Alliance Sample, which has followed a cohort of ~1000 adolescents with phenotypic and genotypic information and has a prevention component. In these projects we are studying how identified genes contribute to trajectories of risk across development, and how different environmental factors exacerbate or mitigate risk.
I am particularly interested in substance use and mental health outcomes in youth and young adults. I run a large longitudinal project at VCU called Spit for Science (spit4science.vcu.edu), in which we have enrolled nearly 10,000 VCU students, and are following them longitudinally to study risk and protective factors for substance use and emotional health outcomes across the college years and beyond. I also direct an interdisciplinary institute focused on promoting behavioral and emotional health in college communities through the integration of research with coursework, programming, and policy (cobe.vcu.edu).