Petra Vertes is an MQ fellow at the University of Cambridge. She gained her MSci in theoretical physics and a PhD in artificial neural networks from the University of Cambridge. She then moved to the Brain Mapping Unit in the Department of Psychiatry for her postdoctoral work. In 2014 she was awarded an MRC fellowship in bioinformatics, followed by an MQ fellowship in 2018. Petra is also one of the co-founders and organisers of the Cambridge Networks Network (CNN) - a forum of over 450 academics across different disciplines who share an interest in network science (http://www.cnn.group.cam.ac.uk/).
Petra's research applies tools from physics, engineering and data science to fundamental problems in neuroscience and mental health. In particular, she is interested in understanding the biological basis for complex neuropsychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and depression, and use this understanding for patient benefit. Petra has worked extensively with human brain networks, where nodes represent large-scale anatomical brain regions and links represent structural or functional connections derived from neuroimaging data. These methods have proven important in describing human brain organisation and how it changes with age, cognitive demand and disease.
However, developing principled prognostics and interventions will depend upon our understanding of how microscopic biological mechanisms shape macroscopic brain networks in health and in disease. For this reason, Petra's recent work has focused on integrating datasets across multiple scales, from large-scale neuroimaging data down to the cellular, molecular and genetic level. Her goal is to understand which genes and biological processes lead to specific abnormalities in human brain networks observed in various psychiatric disorders. She is also interested in developing peripheral biomarkers (measurable via blood tests or simple sensors) for early detection and personalized treatment in psychiatry.
Petra works with a wide variety of multivariate data, from neuroimaging to microarray, DNA, protein interaction networks, flow cytometry and data from wearable devices. Alongside her work on human brain networks, Petra also studies simpler organisms, such as C. elegans, which provide a test-bed for methodological innovations as well as insights into generalisable aspects of brain organisation, brain development, network dysfunction and repair.