POND Science Days were held on December 4/5 2014 in the Daniels Hollywood Theatre at Sick Kids Hospital, Toronto. Scientists, students, and research staff came together to talk and hear about the progress of POND research projects. At POND Science Days, they are able to share information and learn from each other in an environment of collegiality, not competition. After the introduction by Dr. Donald Stuss of the Ontario Brain Institute, the POND Network’s major funder, scientists and students gave presentations on their projects. Each of these talks was about translational science – taking research from the laboratory to the bedside – all focused on understanding and treating neurodevelopmental disorders. Toward the end of conference, participants discussed the future of the Network and where their research might go.
You can view the slides provided by three of the POND Network scientists here.
Of mice and men: exploring the origins of heterogeneity in autism
Dr. Jason Lerch speaks about his studies in mice, which have found that the great differences in autism symptoms have a genetic basis. This research has shown that there are brain regions and networks that are consistently affected in their mouse model of ASD, and that the genes Neurexin1a, Neuroligin3, and Shank3 affect the development of these regions. It is possible that future treatments could involve selectively targeting these genes, cautioning that there would be a need to ensure that the rest of the genome is not affected.
Autonomic Function in ASD: Physiology to Treatment
Dr. Azadeh Kushki talks about this study about anxiety in people with neurodevelopmental disorders. Many people with neurodevelopmental disorders suffer from symptoms of anxiety. The shaking, sweating, confusion, inability to think clearly ,and feelings of fear or panic that are common in anxiety can seriously interfere with their daily life. This study is looking at how greater understanding of how different brain regions and biological systems underlie the autonomic nervous system and how they are related to symptoms of anxiety. Greater understanding of these mechanisms could be successfully translated into technology-based treatments, such as apps that alert device wearers to their symptoms and signal to them to start deep breathing or other techniques to reduce their anxiety symptoms.
Translational Strategies For Rett Syndrome: From Experimental Mice To Treating Girls and Women
Dr. James Eubanks speaks about Rett Syndrome, a condition associated with a form of the of the MeCP2 gene that does not function properly. Rett syndrome is a condition seen almost exclusively in females. Girls and women with it have problems with social communication and anxiety, maintaining body temperature, as well as difficulties walking and using their hands. Many have seizures or seizure-like episodes. Dr. Eubanks and his colleagues bred a strain of mice who lack the MeCP2 gene, and which subsequently showed most of the symptoms of human females with Rett Syndrome. Their studies have shown that there are specific chemical deficiencies in the brains of the mice that could be targetted for treatment in humans.