Professor Julie Williams

Professor Julie Williams

Professor, Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences

School of Medicine

Email:
williamsj@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone:
+44(0) 29 2068 8326
Location:
3.08, Hadyn Ellis Building, Maindy Road, Cardiff, CF24 4HQ
Media commentator

Julie is now a senior figure in the field of Alzheimer’s disease research. Her publication in 2009 (Harold et al., Nature Genetics) of the first new susceptibility genes for 17 years defined a pivotal moment in Alzheimer’s genetics research. This work was cited by TIME, as one of the top ten medical breakthroughs of 2009. Since then, the consortium she leads, GERAD (Genetic and Environmental Risk in Alzheimer’s Disease), has continued the momentum and has played a leading role in further discoveries. Early in her career, she recognized the complexity of AD genetics and began focusing her research on developing larger, more powerful studies. She is currently one of the four leaders of the International Genomics of Alzheimer’s Project (IGAP) genetics consortium. This incorporates over 200 scientists from Europe and the USA and has access to more than 90,000 AD cases and controls.  Recent studies by the IGAP consortium have identified over 27 new susceptibility loci for AD. Her research has encompassed GWAS, sequencing, large exome chip association studies, as well as addressing more complex phenotypic analyses (e.g. AD and psychosis, depression, rate of decline), cross disease analyses (e.g. AD and Parkinson’s disease, ALS, schizophrenia) and complex statistical analyses (e.g. gene-wide/burden, pathway analyses). What is striking about her group’s findings is that the genes identified show patterns of relationship, which implicate novel disease mechanisms, including immunity, endocytosis, lipid transport and ubiquination.

Julie has served on the MRC Neuroscience and Mental Health Board and the Scientific Advisory Board of Alzheimer’s Research UK. She has shown leadership at a National strategic level. In 2008, she became Chief Scientific Advisor to Alzheimer’s Research UK and used this position to broaden the funding options available to scientists and to increase research capacity and training in the area, actively campaigning to keep the importance of dementia research on the national agenda. Julie also advised UK and Welsh governments on dementia policy. She was appointed Dean of Research, at the School of Medicine at Cardiff University and her contribution to Alzheimer’s disease research was nationally recognised when she was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in the Queen’s Jubilee Birthday Honours list 2012.

In September 2013, appointed as Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) to the Welsh Government, Julie identified the overriding issue facing science in Wales was one of capacity and developed a science strategy ‘Ser Cymru 2’ to address this which was adopted as policy by the Welsh Government. Ser Cymru (Welsh Stars) focuses both on building current research strength by attracting international fellows to partner excellent researchers in Wales and on establishing new research, attracting early career researchers and stellar scientists and their groups to Wales. Julie’s team in Welsh Government was successful in winning the largest Marie-Sklodowska Curie Fellowship grant, amounting to over €23m, to fund 90 fellows across STEMM research into Wales and also won funding from European Structural Funds to co-fund rising stars and stars, bringing the total package to over £60m over the next five years. Julie developed a governance structure comprising an independent Assessment Board chaired by Dr Wendy Ewart to advise on funding excellence, a council made up of stakeholders and University representatives, chaired by the CSA, to make the final funding decisions. Julie also established her own Scientific Advisory Council (chaired by Prof Robin Williams).

 As CSA Wales, Julie commissioned a report on women in science published in 2016 (Talented Women for a Successful Wales). This work was commissioned to help address a gender imbalance, particularly in the areas of STEMM. The resulting report covers issues such as making the study of STEMM subjects relevant and rewarding for girls, recruiting more women into STEMM retaining women in the STEMM workforce and encouraging women into leadership roles.

March 1991 - April 1992   Research Assistant

Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Wales College of Medicine

April 1992 - August 1996   Lecturer in Behavioural Sciences

Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Wales College of Medicine

August 1996 - August 1999   Senior Lecturer in Behavioural Sciences

Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Wales College of Medicine

August 1999 – October 2001  Reader in Neuropsychological Genetics

Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Wales College of Medicine

October 2012 – September 2013  Dean of Research

Cardiff University School of Medicine

EDUCATION

BSc Occupational Psychology II(i) University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology, 1978.

PhD Psychology University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology, 1987.

 

Honours and awards

Director, Genetic and Environmental Risk in Alzheimer’s Disease (GERAD) (2001- ).

Director, PERADES: defining genetic, polygenic and environmental risk of Alzheimer's disease using multiple power cohorts, focused epigenetics and stem cell metabolomics. A consortium of over 170 scientists across the world investigating Alzheimer’s disease. (2012- ).

Co-Director, International Genomic studies of Alzheimer’s Disease (IGAP): a consortium of over 150 scientists from US and Europe with access to 100,000 AD cases and controls (2012- ).

Fellow, Academy of Medical Sciences, (April 2014- ).

Head of Neurodegeneration, MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics & Genomics (2009- 2017).

Board Member, Medical Research Council (MRC) Neurosciences and Mental Health Board, including chair of working groups on epidemiology and autism (February 2004 – 2009).

Board Member, Scientific Board, Alzheimer’s Research UK (2005 – 2012).

Chief Scientific Advisor, Alzheimer’s Research Trust (2009 – 2012).

Fellow, Learned Society of Wales (FLSW), (April 2011)

Senior Faculty, Health and Social Care Wales (2013 onward).

Member, Department of Health Advisory Group on Dementia (2010 – 2012).

Member, Welsh Government Advisory Group on Dementia (2010 – 2011).

Member, Steering Group for the Dementias and Neurodegenerative Diseases Research Network (NEURODEM Cymru).

Representative, Dendron Clinical Studies Group on neuropathology and brain banking.

MRC/UK Representative, ERA-NRT NEURON Scientific Advisory Board (2008).

Member, Organising Committee, Alzheimer’s Disease International Conference, 7 – 10th March 2012, London.

Member, Cardiff University Academic Promotions Sub-Committee (March 2006 - 2013).

Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to Alzheimer’s disease research (2012).

Executive, Dementia Platform UK (DPUK: March 2014- ).

Deputy Director, DPUK (August 2016- ).

Director, Cardiff DRI (2017-)

Professional memberships

Julie's research focuses upon identifying and understanding genes which increase the risk of developing complex psychological and neurodegenerative disorders. These include Alzheimer’s disease, developmental dyslexia and schizophrenia.

She joined the McGuffin/Owen group in 1991 working on the genetics of schizophrenia. Having produced a number of notable papers, she moved focus to Alzheimer’s disease, which has remained her main research interest ever since.

Throughout her career she has recognized the importance of working collaboratively and has contributed to or led a number of successful and long standing consortia. She has attracted research funding amounting to several millions of pounds from major grant funders and has published widely in top scientific Journals (e.g., Science, Nature Genetics, Lancet). Recently, she published evidence for the first new susceptibility genes for Alzheimer’s disease for 17 years (Harold et. al. (2009), Nat. Genet., 41(10): 1088-93), identifying two new susceptibility genes for AD; CLU and PICALM from a study involving over 20,000 subjects from Europe and the USA . When these results were combined with a second genome-wide association study published alongside (Lambert et al. (2009), Nat. Genet., 41(10): 1094-9) a third gene was confirmed (CR1). These findings were highlighted by Time Magazine as one of the ten most important medical breakthroughs of 2009. Since several other susceptibility genes have been identified which together are pin pointing several potential pathways to disease, many of which are novel.

Over ten years ago she began research into the molecular genetics of developmental dyslexia (DD). Since then she has received funding from the Wellcome Trust, The Health Foundation and the MRC to support sample collection and genotyping. The group have already published significant evidence of a gene KIAA0319 which is a strong susceptibility gene for DD (Cope N et al (2005) Am J Hum Genet 76:581-91; Harold D et al (2006) Mol Psychiatry 11:1085-91, 1061), which was highlighted by the Journal Science as one of the major discoveries of 2005.

Areas of expertise