Featured Profile: Dr. Gosia Trynka
Updated: Feb 2
Gosia is an experimental and computational biologist. She has spent a large part of her remarkable career bridging the gap between experimental and computational work in disease research, especially immune conditions [1,2,3]. She currently leads the immune genomics group at the Sanger Institute, a multi-disciplinary group that combines experimental work and computational methods to understand the immune system and the genetic backgrounds that leads to immune and autoimmune diseases such as coeliac disease . Gosia has been an author on over 90 publications with over 12,000 citations covering research in genetics, gene profiling, bioinformatics, immunology and immune diseases.
[Relevant Post: What is translational research?]
In addition to running a research group at the Sanger Institute, Gosia is the Experimental Science Director at Open Targets. Open Targets is a multi-year, multi-disciplinary consortium between two research institutes and four industry partners . The overarching goal of Open Targets is to leverage genomics and other bioinformatics tools to better inform disease research, disease-gene associations, drug identification, and drug prioritisation [4,5].
[Relevant Post: What are genomics, GWAS, and disease associated variants?]
Research and Educational Background
Through her PhD work, Gosia noticed a large gap between the ability of researchers to identify genetic variants in certain diseases, and an understanding of why those genetic variants were found in those diseases [1,2]. Gosia has since spent much of her career working to determine what the presence of particular variants in certain diseases might reveal about the underlying biological processes involved in those diseases [1,2,4].
Gosia originally did an experiment-based MSc. degree at Jagiellonian University. She then went on to complete her doctoral (PhD) degree in Prof. Cisca Wijmenga’s group at Groningen University where she co-led a project that focused on genome-wide association studies (GWAS) in coeliac disease [1,2]. The project resulted in the identification of 39 disease-associated risk variants, and, excitingly, found evidence of a shared genetic background between coeliac disease and a number of other common immune conditions such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease [1,2,4].
Despite their success in identifying disease associated variants and genetic links between a number of immunological conditions there were limited efforts to functionally explore the risk variants that had been identified [1, 2]. Indeed, such an exploration would have been very challenging at the time, as there were not a lot of widely used and formalised methods available for exploring and validating such associations . Gosia was convinced, however, that there were important insights to be gained by understanding the biological functions that were associated with these disease-associated variants.
Gosia therefore developed a passion for translational research, specifically translating information obtained through computational and experimental research into better knowledge of diseases . She became determined to find ways to translate genomic information for immune diseases into an understanding of underlying mechanisms that cause those diseases or are related to the disease.
She therefore went into a purely computational post-doctoral (post doc) position at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute . Her postdoc focused on developing methods to statistically link variants from GWAS studies to biological functions . She did this by linking disease-associated variants from GWAS studies to functional genomics data - i.e. genomics data derived from particular cell types such red blood cells, bone marrow cells, pancreatic cells, etc . The hypothesis was that if correlations exist between GWAS and functional genomics data of particular cell types, it could indicate that those cell types could be involved in the development of the diseases the GWAS data came from.
Having gained biological insights underlying these genetic variants associated to immune diseases Gosia wanted to follow them up experimentally. When she had the chance to start her own research group at the Sanger Institute in 2014, she set up her lab to integrate both experimental and computational work. Her lab now uses experimental techniques to generate data that can be analysed using computational methods in her lab . This gives her group the unique ability to pose research questions, generate data to answer those questions, then analyse generated data themselves .
As the Experimental Science Director of Open Targets, Gosia is also able to help with extending and implementing this model of scientific inquiry to Open Targets Consortium . This means she has been able to help with bridging a large gap that has traditionally existed between computational and experimental labs, which in the past operated largely separate from each other in the past. In addition, the Open Targets paradigm of developing techniques to translate biological and bioinformatics research into useful understanding of disease mechanisms has opened up many exciting opportunities for Gosia’s lab and others to change the way they approach and strategise their research, to maximise the useful disease insights they are able to gain from their work [2, 4].
With her busy schedule and often filled calendar, Gosia has said that maintaining a healthy work-life balance is quite important to her. She likes being active, doing high intensity workouts and weightlifting. She also loves photography, and being outdoors .
Gosia: "I’ve never had a master plan, I never aimed to be here, I always followed my passion, my interest, and the science that made me excited. I never planned to do a PhD or become a geneticist so I don’t know where I’m going to be in the future but I’m also not worried about that because I’m just going to keep on following the research that makes me really excitede." uQ
Link: Q&A with Gosia Trynka
If you would like to learn more about Gosia’s research work, you can refer to the list of publications below as well as the link to a lecture from Gosia online from the Sanger Institute on ‘Dissecting the function of genetic variants associated with immune diseases’
Lecture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_f1dhk39OD0 Publications: Gosia has been an author on over 90 publications with over 12,000 citations, including several in high-impact journals including Nature, Nature Genetics, The American Journal of Human Genetics, Genome Medicine and several others. She is a big proponent of inter-disciplinary research. A full list of her publications can be found here The following is a list of some relevant publications featuring work discussed in this article:
Functional studies of GWAS variants are gaining momentum. Lichou F, Trynka G. Nat Commun. 2020. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-20188-y.
From GWAS to Function: Using Functional Genomics to Identify the Mechanisms Underlying Complex Diseases. Cano-Gamez E, Trynka G. Front Genet. 2020. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fgene.2020.00424/full.
Partitioning heritability by functional annotation using genome-wide association summary statistics. Finucane HK, Bulik-Sullivan B, Gusev A, Trynka G, (20 co-authors), Price AL. Nat Genet. 2015. https://www.nature.com/articles/ng.3404.
Multiple common variants for celiac disease influencing immune gene expression. Dubois PC*, Trynka G*, et al. Nat Genet 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2847618/
1. Sanger.ac.uk. 2021. Trynka, Gosia - Wellcome Sanger Institute. [online] Available at: https://www.sanger.ac.uk/person/trynka-gosia/
2. Carvalho-Silva, D., 2021. Q&A with Gosia Trynka, Open Targets Experimental Science director. [online] Open Targets Blog. Available at: http://blog.opentargets.org/2020/03/10/special-q-a-with-gosia-trynka-open-targets-experimental-science-director/.
3. Yourgenome. 2015. My career in genomics: immune diseases [Video]. YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPeE9ucwd4s&feature=emb_logo
4. Wellcome Sanger Institute. 2020. Sanger Seminar - Q&A with Dr Gosia Trynka.
[Video]. Youtube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jw_0O4AE93M
5. Opentargets.org. 2021. Home - Open Targets. [online] Available at: https://www.opentargets.org/