NHMRC Research Fellowship (PRF): Development of the cerebral cortex (2011–2016)
In order for the brain to function correctly, it must form correctly during embryonic and foetal development. I am studying the development of the mammalian cerebral cortex, an area of the brain responsible for all higher order cognitive processes. In particular I am studying how connections from between the two cerebral hemispheres, thus enabling the brain to coordinate information from the two sides of the body. Malformations of these connections occur in over 50 different human congenital syndromes, and can result in mental retardation as well as sensory and motor deficits. My research is uncovering the genetic and molecular processes necessary for the formation of these connections so that we may further understand how these birth defects occur and how best to treat these disorders. The largest connection between the two cerebral hemispheres is called the corpus callosum. Previously our work has shown that specialized cells, called glia, at the midline of the brain regulate the development of the corpus callosum. I am investigating the molecular and genetic mechanisms that regulate the development of midline glia and how they control axon tract formation. I am working with pediatric neurologists in Australia and the USA to develop diagnostic genetic and imaging tools to characterize human congenital syndromes associated with agenesis of the corpus callosum and to determine how treatments might be developed for these patients.