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Lindsay Chura discusses her work on Autism

In conversation with Adisa Pamukcic, Lindsay Chura, who has recently submitted her PhD, gives a summary of her findings and highlights below.

Can you give us a short background into what you have been studying these last few years?

I have been working on the importance of an area of the brain called the corpus callosum.

My PhD research investigated brain structure in both typically and atypically developing children. Within the field of autism research, the corpus callosum has emerged as a brain region of interest in recent years. My research focused on this structure. The corpus callosum is a part of the brain that links the brain’s ‘hemispheres’, or halves, together.

In the first year of my PhD, I extended the work of the Foetal Testosterone Longitudinal Study to investigate the effects of foetal testosterone (FT) on corpus callosum size and asymmetry in a cohort of 28 typically developing children whose exposure to FT had been previously measured before they were born via amniocentesis. MRI brain scans revealed that although there was no relationship between foetal testosterone and overall corpus callosum size, increasing testosterone was linked to increasing asymmetry of the callosum. This investigation was the first to examine whether foetal testosterone influences human corpus callosum development. These findings have implications for understanding the early organisational effects that this hormone has on foetal brain development.

My research moved to The Cambridge Family Study of Autism. I investigated corpus callosum size in a large cohort (n=132) of male and female adolescents with ASC (n=52), their unaffected siblings (n=40), and unrelated typically developing controls (n=40). The structural findings from my research indicated that larger differences exist between adolescents with autism in terms of callosum size than scientists thought.

What made you want to do a PhD?

The rigour inherent in the scientific method makes the PhD process both challenging and exhilarating. I came to study at Cambridge by way of the United States and Australia where I led research studies in the fields of psychiatry and reproductive endocrinology. Those experiences helped me to understand the intricacies of experimental design. Neuroscience is a rapidly changing field and being involved in an area of research as dynamic as autism is very exciting.

What was the best day during your PhD? 

I believe that research is a reciprocal process. I organised a feedback celebration event last November for all of the families that participated in the Cambridge Family Study of Autism. It was an opportunity to share findings from the study and to listen to their feedback. Each child I met through my research opened my eyes to a different aspect of autism, and I have been humbled by the sincerity and perseverance with which they approach the hills and valleys of life. The lessons I take away from this research go far beyond what can be contained in the pages of my dissertation.

What do you hope to do next?

My PhD training in psychiatry has helped me to see great truth in the old proverb “it takes a village to raise a child”. Hand in hand with advancing the scientific understanding underlying the pathophysiology of neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders, there is a pressing need for increasing access to support services for affected individuals. The potential for therapeutic interventions to make the greatest impact hinges on different segments of our society coming together – from the medical community to policymakers, parents and teachers – to work toward the common goal of supporting individuals with conditions such as autism.

Autism Research Centre

Supervisors: Professor Simon Baron-Cohen and Dr. Michael Spencer

Funded by the Gates Cambridge Scholarship Trust

Studied at Trinity College, Cambridge

Please get in touch if you have recently submitted your PhD or published a paper that you would like to share with the Cambridge Neuroscience community.
Adapted from Department of Psychiatry News.

Posted on 03/05/2013

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