Prize for research on Robinson Crusoe Island

newbury prize
Dianne Newbury and her colleague Pia Constanza Villaneuva from Chile won the MRC's poster competition

Dr Dianne Newbury, who heads a research group working on the genetics of specific language impairment (SLI) at WTCHG, has won a national competition organised by the Medical Research Council for the best poster illustrating the importance of international collaboration.

The prize was awarded on 10 December at an event in London held as part of the MRC’s centenary celebrations. Guests included Francis Collins, Director of the US National Institutes of Health, Professor Janet Darbyshire, Joint Director of the UK Clinical Research Network, Venki Ramakrishnan, Nobel prizewinner from the MRC LMB in Cambridge, and the heads of many other biomedical research organisations. Dianne received £3000 to cover the travel costs of her future research.

Dianne’s poster, prepared in collaboration with Dr Pia Constanza Villanueva from the University of Chile, describes the work they have done to identify a genetic basis for the very high level of speech and language disorders on Robinson Crusoe Island, a small island 700km off the west coast of Chile.

Newbury+Collins
Dianne Newbury explains her research to Francis Collins, Director of NIH

The island has around 600 inhabitants, most of whom are descended from a small founder population. Of the children aged 3-9 who took part in the study, 35 per cent had SLI and a further 27.5 per cent had language impairments that were secondary to other developmental conditions.

Dianne and her colleagues studied more than a million genetic variants in DNA samples collected from two generations of islanders. They have identified several genetic regions that are more similar in individuals affected by SLI than would be expected by chance alone (Villanueva et al 2011).

‘The genetic investigations will broaden our understanding of genetic contributions to communication impairments in a way that could not be easily achieved in the UK’, says Dianne in her poster.

Dianne Newbury told us about the research done on Robinson Crusoe Island in ‘Freeing Voices’, a lecture filmed in February 2013 for Science Oxford Live (from 14:30 on the video).