In the Newbury lab, we study the genetic basis of Specific Language Impairment (SLI). Our primary goal is to identify and characterise genetic variations that make some individuals particularly susceptible to problems during language acquisition.
SLI is a complex genetic disorder (these are also sometimes called multifactorial or polygenic disorders). This means that although it runs in families, it is not simply inherited. Instead, we think that it involves several normal genetic variants and can also be affected by environmental influences. Certain combinations of these variants, when accompanied by a particular environment, make some individuals particularly sensitive to language deficits. The involvement of many different genes and the fact that the combinations of risk variants may differ between affected individuals mean that genes for complex disorders are particularly hard to detect. Nonetheless, recent advances in genetics and technology have helped this process and contributory genes are starting to be identified. In our current research, we are continuing the process of gene identification whilst characterising the role of recently identified variants. We are also investigating how risk variants might interact with environmental factors to cause disorder. We would like to find out what these genes do during brain development and how genetic variations make some people more susceptible to developmental disorders than others.
It is important to note that because of the complexity of these disorders, we will probably never be able to accurately predict which people are likely to develop them and it is unlikely that we will be able to cure language impairments. Instead, we hope that by identifying the genes, biological pathways and brain regions important for these disorders, we will be able to better understand what causes them. This in turn will help to develop better diagnosis and treatments for affected individuals and families.
Specific details about our studies can be found on our research project page.
Information about SLI and support for affected individuals and their families can be found at the Afasic website.
Oxford Sparks have some really great resources and information about science of all kinds in Oxford.
The RALLIcampaign youtube channel has information about language impairments and their impact upon children.
Podcasts about our research and other groups in the centre can be found here.