Blog & News

The CAPICE blog hosts news and announcements, events, media and articles, mostly written by the Early Stage Researchers (ESRs).
They constantly pursue the publication of articles about their research during their activities carried on within this project, and this blog works as a travelogue to disseminate the research results to a broad audience of scientists, clinicians, patients and their parents and the general public.

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I am Laura Schellhas and, together with Elis Haan, I’m working as an early stage researcher (ESR) on the CAPICE project at the University of Bristol (UoB). Before moving to Bristol, I completed a Bachelor’s of Psychology and a Research Master’s in Behavioural and Social Sciences with specialization in clinical psychology at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Deciding to move to the UK brought some uncertainty with it, due to the forthcoming Brexit. However, when I first arrived in Bristol all these doubts were swept away. I had a very warm welcome from my supervisors, as well as from the other PhD students.

As research work can be quite isolating, I was happy to find the research environment in Bristol to be one of the most collaborative ones I have experienced so far.
At the UoB I am part of the Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group (TARG, @BristolTARG) where I am investigating whether lifestyle behaviours in pregnancy, specifically alcohol, tobacco and caffeine consumption, may lead to (de)activation of genes (a process called methylation) in offspring, which may predispose children towards the development mental health problems. The difficulty with this research topic is that, as it is not possible to randomly allocate pregnant mothers into groups of adverse and non-adverse lifestyle behaviours, all available data is observational in nature, limiting the causal inferences that can be made. For my PhD, I am therefore planning to use a Mendelian Randomization (MR) approach, which uses Mendel's law of random assortment of genes, to allocate people of observational studies into "random" groups based on their genetic make-up. As one's genes are allocated at conception, MR avoids reverse causality and, because genotype is assigned randomly, reduces bias due to confounding, thus allowing us to draw inferences about causality. A short introduction to Mendelian Randomization can be found on the TARG YouTube channel.

TARG at Cumberland Lodge

Specifically, I enjoy the diversity of expertise in TARG (form e-cigarettes to cognitive bias modification to (epi)genetics…) and opportunities to exchange ideas and to collaborate. In December we went on a three-day work retreat at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor, where we had skills workshops relevant to all researchers, such as pitching project ideas, conducting systematic reviews and CV writing, as well as many opportunities to get to know one another and the projects people are working on.

Everyone working hard at Cumberland Lodge

Almost more challenging than starting a PhD in a new country was the process of finding a place to stay in Bristol. I am very happy to have Elis as my partner in crime to tackle such problems together. Also, since we both have a clinical psychology background, it is great to jointly get our heads into the topic of psychiatric genomics.
Overall, the first months working in the CAPICE project have been very inspiring. Just last month we got to meet all the other ESR students at a workshop at King's College London. It is a great feeling to be working towards a common goal all together. I am convinced that by combining available cohort data across Europe we can gain great insights into the development of mental disorders in children and use this information for reducing numbers of onset. I am looking forward to seeing all the others again in London this summer and to show everyone around Bristol for the Mendelian Randomization CAPICE workshop next year.


Bristol's beautiful harbour side


Get in Touch!


Prof. Christel Middeldorp, project coordinator

VU University Amsterdam
Dept. of Biological Psychology
email : c.m.middeldorp(at)

Natascha Stroo, project manager
VU University Amsterdam
Dept. of Biological Psychology
email : natascha.stroo(at)

Matteo Mauri, web & dissemination manager
University of Cagliari
email : matteo.mauri(at)

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