Anxiety disorders
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Division of Molecular Biology & Human Genetics

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​Anxiety disorders

Neuropsychiatric Genetics Group



Group leader/head

 Sîan Hemmings is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry. She heads the Neuropsychiatric Genetics research group. She obtained her MSc and PhD from Stellenbosch University, and has been involved in psychiatric research for the past 15 years. Her research interests include investigating the molecular aetiology of PTSD and stress-related disorders, by conducting genetic, epigenetic, transciptomic and microbiomic studies. She also works on fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).

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Senior Scientist 

Jacqueline Womersley obtained her PhD in Physiology from the University of Cape Town in 2014.  Jacqueline is currently investigating the role of DNA methylation in a range of projects covering FASD, childhood trauma, aggression, PTSD and anxiety sensitivity.

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Laboratory Manager

Natasha Kitchin is a Department of Psychiatry Research Assistant.  She is responsible for the management of the Neuropsychiatric Genetics laboratory and assists with various departmental research projects. Natasha is also a PhD student whose research investigates the role that the maternal and offspring gut microbiome, and the maternal vaginal microbiome, play in Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

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Postdoctoral fellows

Swart.jpg Patricia Swart obtained her PhD (Neuroscience) from the University of Cape Town in 2018. She is currently working on a genome-wide association study and the polygenic risk of PTSD in a South African Mixed-Ancestry population. In addition, she is aiming to identify expression quantitative loci (eQTLs) associated with PTSD in the above cohort. She is also managing the saNeuroGut project which is a large population-based study into the role of the gut microbiome and genetic mechanisms in psychiatric disorders in South African participants.    

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PhD students

Nothling.jpg Jani Nöthling is a Research Assistant in the Department of Psychiatry. Her research area of interest is trauma exposure and its clinical and epigenetic consequences in adolescents and adults following exposure to violence, abuse and neglect.  Part of her PhD work will be done with the Neuropsychiatric Genetics group.

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gabier.jpgEreshia Gabier is a PhD student whose research focuses on investigating the gut and blood microbiome in posttraumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and Parkinson’s Disease.

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   M.Sc students

duplessis.jpg Morne Du Plessis is an MSc student comparing multiple polygenic risk score modelling approaches to identify the optimal method through which to predict PTSD status in a uniquely admixed South African population. 

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moodley.jpgAllegra Moodley is an MSc student investigating pro-inflammatory cytokines as markers of inflammation in PTSD, Parkinson's disease and Schizophrenia patients. 

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roomaney.jpgAqeedah Roomaney is a MSc student. Her project examines the effect of dopamine-related genetic variants on reward-related neuronal activity in healthy participants in order to better understand the polygenic basis underlying reward processing abnormalities.

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Leah.pngLeah Chifamba is an MSc student whose research examines the influence of child trauma and epigenetic variation in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) on anxiety sensitivity. 

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Honours student

Lauren.pngLauren Martin is a BSc Honours student. In her project, she compares the efficacy of stool and saliva collection and preservation devices as well as commercial microbial DNA extraction kits used in the analysis of the microbiome. 

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Past Students

toikumo.jpg
Sylvanus Toikumo
 was a PhD student whose research focused on identifying shared epigenetic markers associated with the development of PTSD and metabolic syndrome.

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Allan Kalungi
 was a Ph.D. student jointly registered at Stellenbosch University and Makerere University in Uganda.  His research focused on investigating the association between acute stress and internalising mental disorders and factors that mediate this relationship, among HIV+ children and adolescents in Uganda.

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Chané Bain obtained her MSc (Human Genetics) in 2020. Her research investigated Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), focusing on mothers of the Robertson and Wellington area with hazardous drinking.

 



 Stefanie Malan-Müller obtained her PhD (Psychiatry) from Stellenbosch University in 2014. Her research investigated the gut microbiome profiles of PTSD patients to gain insight into how these microbes affect mental health and behaviour. 

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Khethelo Xulu obtained his PhD (Psychiatry) in 2018.  His research focused on the molecular aetiology of PTSD and aggressive behaviour, investigating DNA methylation amongst young former offenders from Cape Town townships.

 

 

 

 

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Keren de Buys
obtained her MSc (Human Genetics) in 2019. Her research investigated novel markers of cardiometabolic risk in the Black population of Cape Town, South Africa


 


 

 

Theron.jpg 

Jessica Theron was a Department of Psychiatry laboratory Research Assistant.  She assisted with departmental research projects including managing databases, and performing DNA extractions.

 


  


 

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On Monday, 10 October 2016 The Neuropsychiatric Genetics group celebrated World Mental Health Day 2016 by spreading awareness about mental health. This year’s theme was "Take 10 Together", the #WMHD campaign called on everyone to reach out to someone – a friend, a family member, a colleague – and have a meaningful 10-minute conversation with them to start talking about their mental health and wellbeing.

"Never give up on someone with a mental illness. When "I" is replaced by "We", illness becomes wellness."

 

 

 

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