Autism Spectrum Disorders: Research & Clinical Updates Event as iCalendar

24 May 2017

7 - 10pm

Venue: AMRF Lecture Theatre, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences

Location: 85 Park Road, Grafton, Auckland

Host: Professor Russell Snell

Cost: Free

Contact info: Frankie Favero

Contact email:

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Distinguished Professor Sir Richard Faull, Director of the Centre for Brain Research, would like to cordially invite you to an evening of research findings and clinical updates in the field of Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Student researchers, working as part of the wider Minds For Minds group, will kick-start the evening with presentations of their latest discoveries.

A public panel discussion with clinical and research experts will immediately follow. This is an opportunity to hear about the significant progress being made in the field of ASD research, and for you to voice your personal inquiries.

The evening will end with a cocktail function in which attendees will have the opportunity to further converse with academics and students.

*This event is not to be missed! We encourage you to secure your place today as spaces are limited. To RSVP, email Frankie Favero now.











Emerging Neuroscientists Speakers

Brendan Swann, PhD Candidate

From Professor Russell Snell's lab at the Centre for Brain Research, Brendan has just submitted his PhD and is waiting for his oral examination on the genetics of ASD.

Using the Minds for Minds database to identify families for his studies, he has contributed to the discovery of a range of neurodevelopmental conditions and variations including ASD, in six families.

Brendan will present on the current Minds for Minds register and the discovery process for two families. 

Dr Juliette Cheyne, Research Fellow

Dr Juliette Cheyne is a senior postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Brain Research, researching how brain cell function and communication is altered in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Her research has shown that ASD-specific genetic changes weaken brain cell communication. Juliette has recently returned from Amsterdam where she was trained in recording brain cell function in the living brain, and she is now utilising this cutting edge technology here to examine how this changes in the ASD brain.

Giselle Wong, Master's Degree Student

Giselle is currently undertaking her Master of Science thesis researching the role of the gut microbiome in ASD. For her project she is utilising a model of ASD, which enables underlying causes to be explored.

In her presentation she will discuss her own research and also comment on the microbiome work being carried out in parallel with the human Minds for Minds participants.


Reseach & Clinical Panel Discussion


Dr Rosamund Hill

Dr Hill is a consulting neurologist at Auckland City Hospital. In her private practice she has a passion for Neurological Rehabilitation and specialises in the treatment of people with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

She also has a passion for understing Autism Spectrum Disorders, as her son is severly autistic. She is also amongst the founding researchers and clinicians who started the Minds for Minds network.



Associate Professor Johanna Montgomery, Synapse Physiology

Associate Professor Johanna Montgomery completed her PhD in Physiology at The University of Otago. She then performed her postdoctoral research at Stanford University USA, where her research focus was the plasticity of synapses in the hippocampus.

She returned to New Zealand in 2004 where she is Principal Investigator of the Synaptic Function Research Group in the Department of Physiology and Centre for Brain Research at The University of Auckland.

Her research team focusses on understanding the molecular mechanisms that underlie the physiology of excitatory synapses in the central and peripheral nervous systems.  Her laboratory combines electrophysiology, molecular biology and imaging techniques to investigate how changes in synapse function could underlie developmental disorders such as Autism, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Huntington's Disease.

In her latest research, Johanna's data shows that zinc increases brain cell communication, so zinc could be a target treatment strategy for ASD.

Her current study aims to determine whether increased dietary zinc during pregnancy and lactation can prevent the development of ASD behaviours in a mouse model of ASD, and whether this is associated with changes in synapses.

Together, the data will characterise, from synapse to behaviour, the potential of dietary zinc in ASD during brain development.


Dr Colette Muir, Specialist Pediatrician 

Colette  is a Developmental Paediatrician at Starship. She trained in Auckland and completed a Fellowship in Developmental Paediatrics at the Mater Children's Hospital in Brisbane.

Her clinical role includes diagnosis and management of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other developmental disabilities.


Associate Professor Mike Taylor, Microbiology of ASD

Mike is a microbiologist interested in the ecology of complex microbial communities. Having worked in the past on microbes associated with various marine and terrestrial animals, he is now applying the same techniques to study the microbial communities within humans.

Bacteria and other microorganisms in the human gut have a profound impact on health and there is evidence for a link between gut bacteria and the occurrence of autism.


Dr Jessie Jacobsen, Genetics of ASD

Jessie received a Top Achiever Doctoral Scholarship to complete a PhD on Huntington’s disease at The University of Auckland.  Her doctoral research won her the MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year award in 2007. 

Following the completion of her PhD she received a Neurological Foundation of New Zealand Philip Wrightson Postdoctoral Fellowship to study at the Center for Human Genetic Research at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.  During this time she developed an interest in complex genetic disorders, particularly Autism Spectrum Disorder and other neurodevelopmental disorders. 

In 2012, Jessie was awarded a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship in recognition of her novel contributions to neurodevelopmental disorders. Jessie is also one of the founders of the Minds for Minds Autism Spectrum Disorder Research Network. 

Jessie's current research is centred around a type of genetic anomaly called a Structural Variant.

Some of these genetic anomalies (particularly those that are complex or small) are not detected by the current screening technology used in the clinics, which makes diagnosis challenging and often frustrating for clinicians and families.

The most accurate way to find structural variants is through whole genome sequencing and sophisticated methods of specific fragment sequencing. Full genome sequencing is a laboratory process that determines the complete DNA sequence of an individual’s genome in a single event. It is the most complete method to study genes as it can provide raw data on all six billion nucleotides in an individual's DNA.

Providing families with accurate diagnostics and useful therapies is what really motivates Jessie's team to achieve.