Lubke Named Lead Statistician for Renowned Research Consortium

Author: Aaron Smith

Gitta Lubke

Notre Dame psychologist Gitta Lubke will serve as one of the senior statisticians in an international research consortium investigating the genetics and environmental contributions to the development of childhood aggression, which will provide the basis to develop more personalized treatment and intervention strategies.

“Gitta’s research is on the cutting edge of quantitative psychology, and it is no surprise that she would be tapped to design new analytical procedures to study genetic data for this renowned research consortium,” said Professor Daniel Lapsley, chair of the Department of Psychology.

Lubke, Associate Professor of Psychology, directs the “Genetics and Statistical Learning Lab”: and the Psychology Program/Quantitative Area at Notre Dame.

“Gitta’s research illustrates so many important trends in psychological science: that it is highly collaborative, international, driven by the search for biological mechanisms, and involves such big complex problems that new ways of analyzing data are required,” Lapsley said.

Funded by an $8.2 million grant from the European Commission, the ACTION project (Aggression in Children: unraveling gene-environment interplay to inform Treatment and InterventiON strategies) launched June 2014. The Departments of Biological Psychology and Developmental Psychology at VU Amsterdam formed a consortium with nine scientific partners from Europe, Australia, and the United States, and two small biomedical companies, to chart the causes of externalizing behavioral problems such as aggression.

As stated in the introduction of the ACTION project, “externalizing problems are frequent, and often start in early childhood. Affected children suffer, they are often excluded from interactions with other children, they are punished, and have problems at school. Their parents, siblings, teachers, and classmates are also affected by these problems. Only a small percentage of children react successfully to current treatment options.”

Lubke will be instrumental in integrating longitudinal data from seven large European studies to examine the development and causes of individual differences. Existing data will be supplemented with new epigenetic and metabolic profiles. Over the next five years, researchers will work to clarify the complex interplay of genes and environment.

“By combining interdisciplinary results, our goal is to establish a broad theoretical framework of risk as well as protective factors,” Lubke said. “This framework will be used to develop a new risk evaluation system to support focused interventions that can take into account individual differences between children.”

Collaboration and data sharing is crucial to the success of the project, according to Lubke, who spent last November in Amsterdam to plan and start the first set of longitudinal analyses. Last year, her graduate student Dan McArtor traveled to Amsterdam to familiarize himself with the different aspects of the data, and to carry out initial exploratory analyses.

“This is the first time in my career that I am involved in such a large collaborative effort,” Lubke said. “This project is without doubt a major milestone in my career.”