Researching the Link Between Genetics and Suicidal Behaviors

Jul 22, 2022 7:00 AM


HMHI Research Spotlight: Emily DiBlasi, PhD

Emily DiBlasi, PhD

Emily DiBlasi, PhD, is a Research Instructor in the Department of Psychiatry. She obtained her MS in Evolution, Ecology and Behavior from the University at Buffalo and her PhD in Biology from the University of Utah. Dr. DiBlasi’s research focuses on the discovery of risk factors in suicide death.

We asked Dr. DiBlasi a few questions about her research, her work at HMHI and what she enjoys doing when she is not working.

What is your area/areas of specialty?

My research is focused on the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to complex neuropsychiatric human traits such as substance use disorders and suicidal behavior. My past biological, evolutionary genetic, and statistical training has instilled upon me a drive to understand why individuals differ genetically and how these differences impact their lives. Funding from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation allowed me to establish analysis pipelines with the Utah Suicide Genetic Risk Study (USGRS). With the rich data resources available through the USGRS, I use novel methods to integrate clinical, demographic and genealogic data, minimizing heterogeneity and maximizing the potential for genomic discovery.

What do you love most about the work that you do?

I enjoy working with large datasets that are unique to Utah and finding patterns that inform important multidimensional problems from a highly collaborative and interdisciplinary perspective. I love collaborating with clinicians and researchers across campus and nationally and internationally. One collaborative I have an active role in is the Suicide Working Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium which leads the largest biological investigation of suicidal behavior.

"I enjoy working with large datasets that are unique to Utah and finding patterns that inform important multidimensional problems from a highly collaborative and interdisciplinary perspective."

Emily DiBlasi, PhD

What is the latest update(s) on your research?

My current research lies at the intersection of two public health crises, suicide and drug overdose and focuses on the identification of genetic risk. Results from analyses comparing the clinical and genetic characteristics of Utah suicide deaths with and without evidence of substance use disorders suggests that suicide decedents with evidence of opioid misuse have elevated genetic risk for ADHD, chronic pain and PTSD.

How does the research you do help patients?

Better delineation of demographic, clinical, familial and genetic risks associated with suicide and overdose deaths will help inform more targeted treatments and may eventually identify underlying biological risks leading to increased vulnerability to these lethal outcomes.

Emily Diblasi PhD hiking

What research are you hoping to work on next?

I am excited to collaborate with faculty members in OBGYN and Psychology to focus on maternal mental health and perinatal factors that are specific to women who die by suicide and overdose.

What are you passionate about outside of work?

I love bluegrass and other live music, growing heirloom flowers and vegetables, as well as exploring the outdoors with my family, friends, and dogs.

mental health suicide substance use disorder