As a teenager in Nezahualcoyotl, a suburb of Mexico City, Brenda Cabrera-Mendoza found herself captivated by a required high school course on human health and anatomy. But her amazement didn’t stem from the vast discoveries already achieved by modern science. Instead, she was drawn to the behaviors and bodily systems that science has yet to fully crack — in particular, the human brain.
In the years since, Cabrera-Mendoza’s fixation with the brain and mental health led her to the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, where she first earned an M.D. and then a Ph.D. in psychiatric genomics. Today, as a postdoctoral researcher at Yale, she’s doubled down on her interest in the genetic and socioeconomic factors that can influence mental health.
Already, she’s made waves, particularly in the field of suicidality and its genetic underpinnings. Cabrera-Mendoza’s published research includes a first-of-its-kind study that helped to identify genomic alterations among Latin Americans who died by suicide, and she’s currently working on a project meant to create a de facto registry of genetic variants associated with suicidal behavior in people of African, Asian, and Latin American descent.
Among other topics, she’s also researched sex disparities in rates of suicide death; potential targets for pharmacological treatments to prevent suicide and substance use disorders; and how socioeconomic status impacts the severity of Covid-19 disease manifestation. It’s work that, in her words, could one day “elucidate the underpinnings of health inequalities and guide the development of measures to mitigate its effects on disadvantaged groups.”
— Lev Facher