We are delighted to announce that Kate Baker has joined the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit (MRC CBU) as a new Programme Leader Track scientist in February 2018. She will be leading a new programme investigating genomic disorders and cognitive development.
Kate joins us from the Department of Medical Genetics at the University of Cambridge. She carried out her PhD research at UCL Institute of Child Health, and held an Academic Clinical Fellowship and Lectureship during her clinical training as a paediatrician and clinical geneticist. She has been a visiting scientist at MRC CBU since 2012, working with Duncan Astle via funding from the NewLife Foundation and Baily Thomas Charitable Trust. She is also an Honorary Consultant in Clinical Genetics at Addenbrookes Hospital (CUH).
Kate’s research aims to fill the gap between genetic diagnosis and day-to-day problems for individuals with intellectual disability (ID). Until recently, finding the genetic cause of ID was usually difficult, expensive and time-consuming. The majority of individuals with ID did not receive a diagnosis, and the cause of their lifelong impairments remained a mystery. With technological advances and major health service investment, genetic diagnosis is becoming the norm. However, finding a genetic diagnosis leads to new questions: What are the neurodevelopmental impairments associated with each rare cause of ID? How does each small genetic difference affect the brain leading to ID? What can we learn about normal brain function and cognitive development by understanding ID caused by specific gene mutations?
In her programme, Kate will address these questions, focusing on individuals with ID caused by synaptic gene mutations. She will work with other members of the Unit to develop new cognitive neuroscience methods sensitive to synaptic dysfunction. Kate says ”I find it fascinating that a small difference in, for example, the timing of neurotransmitter release, can severely restrict the brain’s ability to support cognitive development. Pairing genetic diagnosis with cognitive neuroscience can highlight important aspects of human neurobiology that have never been observed before”. Kate also works in collaboration with cellular neuroscientists, to model the impact of patients’ specific gene mutations on neuronal function. “I really enjoy working across scientific disciplines – we share the same core questions, but by bringing different experimental tools and knowledge bases together, we can make real progress”.
Kate said “I’m thrilled to be joining the team at the MRC CBU. This is a fantastic group of dedicated and skilled scientists, and I am looking forward to learning and working together”.