Rochester, Minnesota


The research focus of Joanna M. Biernacka, Ph.D., is in the area of genetics of complex diseases, particularly addiction and other psychiatric illnesses.

Focus areas

  • Alcohol dependence. As the statistical geneticist in the Samuel C. Johnson Genomics of Addiction Program and an investigator in the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism-funded Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Treatment of Alcohol Dependence (principal investigator: David Mrazek, M.D.), Dr. Biernacka assists her collaborators within the programs with designing studies and analyzing the resulting data. These studies are aimed at elucidating the complex relationships between particular genetic variants and traits, such as increased risk of developing alcoholism or increased likelihood of responding to a specific treatment.
  • Bipolar disorder. Along with Mark A. Frye, M.D., Dr. Biernacka is a co-principal investigator of Mayo Clinic's bipolar disorder biobank, which provides a rich resource for research into the complex causes of bipolar disorder and biomarkers of disease susceptibility and treatment response. Dr. Biernacka is also involved in a magnetic resonance spectroscopy study, led by Dr. Frye, of bipolar disorder and response to treatment with lamotrigine.
  • Pharmacogenomics of antidepressants. Dr. Biernacka provides statistical genetics support for a pharmacogenomic study of response to treatment of major depressive disorder with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). This pharmacogenomic study, led by Dr. Mrazek, is part of Mayo Clinic's Pharmacogenomic Research Network (principal investigator: Richard Weinshilboum, M.D.).
  • Parkinson's disease. Dr. Biernacka is also the lead statistical geneticist for a study of the molecular epidemiology of Parkinson's disease, which aims to elucidate the genetic and environmental risk factors — and their interactions — for the disease's development and progression.
  • Statistical genetics methods development. As these types of analyses require the application of advanced statistical techniques, Dr. Biernacka also works on the development of novel statistical methods for the analysis of genetic data. Her methods development research is currently focused primarily on gene-set analysis and methods for detection of gene-gene interactions, with application to addiction and other psychiatric traits.

Significance to patient care

An understanding of the genetic causes of psychiatric diseases will enable improved diagnosis and prevention, as well as development of novel therapies.

Furthermore, knowledge of the genomic factors and other biomarkers that play a role in response to pharmacological treatment of psychiatric illness will enable a more personalized strategy for treating these complex disorders, as it will help clinicians select the most appropriate treatment for each patient.


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Primary Appointment

  1. Health Sciences Research

Joint Appointment

  1. Department of Psychiatry and Psychology

Academic Rank

  1. Associate Professor of Biostatistics
  2. Assistant Professor of Psychiatry


  1. Postdoctoral Research Associate Institute of Human Genetics, University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne
  2. Postdoctoral Research Associate Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, University of Cambridge
  3. PhD - Biostatistics University of Toronto
  4. MS - Statistics McMaster University
  5. BS - Honours Biology and Mathematics McMaster University

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