Optimising Brain Development for a Healthy Start to Life
Watch the videos describing our research:
• Student videomade as part of a Science Communication workshop
• Christine describes our research (video)
From maternal health to mental health:
How does a woman's health during pregnancy affect her offspring's mental health?
Was your mother's health during pregnancy to blame if you feel awkward at parties? Or can't stop eating those fatty foods? These may seem odd questions. But recent studies suggest that our mother's health when she was pregnant with us can have an uncanny influence on our behaviour.
Sometimes maternal health problems can come about from voluntary activities, such as drinking or smoking. In these cases, fortunately science has already determined the risks to both the mother and her child, and so we all know that pregnant women shouldn't do these things.
But what about health issues that a woman may not be able to control? Things like gestational diabetes, obesity, stress, flu? Turns out that each of these can increase her baby's risk of behavioural abnormalities later in its life, including autism, anxiety, eating disorders, and schizophrenia. Since we have little control over whether a women experiences any of these health problems during pregnancy, it is critical that we understand how they increase risk to her offspring's health.
This is exactly the aim of our research! We use rodents as our model of choice because their pregnancy and brain development are remarkably similar to our own. And of course we can examine the brains of the fetuses and the newborns to look for changes. We are looking to see whether fundamental processes in brain development - neurogenesis (the birth of nerve cells) and neural circuit formation - are altered when a mother's health is not optimal.
Our goals are to identify which maternal factors negatively impact healthy fetal brain development, to discover markers that can be used to predict potential neurobehavioral disorders, and to provide research-informed guidelines for healthy pregnancy.
Description of research:
We use an array of techniques including molecular & cellular biology, mouse genetic models, live cell imaging, and bioinformatics to address our scientific questions. In addition, we have active collaborations with laboratories in the Centre for Neuroendocrinology, the Brain Health Research Centre, Gravida: the National Centre for Growth and Development (one of the 7 national Centres of Research Excellence), as well as overseas collaborations. This collaborative research creates a vibrant, intellectually invigorating environment in which to conduct cutting-edge science that is internationally recognized and will benefit health outcomes in New Zealand and the world.