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Young Ambassadors’ Symposium

Invited Speakers with the Young Ambassadors’ Symposium

Keynote Lecture

Dr. Paolo GIACOBINI, University of Lille, France

Extra-Gonadal Roles of Anti-Mullerian Hormone in the Regulation of GnRH Neuronal Function

I am a basic scientist focused on neurodevelopmental events leading to the correct maturation and function of the mammalian reproductive axis. I obtained my Ph.D Degree in Neuroscience  in 2005 at the University of Turin, Italy. This was a graduate partnership program between the University of Turin, Italy (Supervisor: Prof. Aldo Fasolo) and the National Institute of Health (NIH), Bethesda, USA (Supervisor: Dr. Susan Wray), where I spent several years during my PhD and Post-Doctoral formation. Since 2009 I am a research scientist and group leader at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) in Lille, France.

Symposium – Young Ambassadors’ Nominated Lecture Symposium

Dr. Michelle BELLINGHAM, University of Glasgow, UK

Maternal Exposure to Low-Level Chemical Mixtures: Consequences on the Offspring Neuroendocrine System

Dr. Michelle Bellingham is a lecturer in the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, University of Glasgow (since 2012).  She received her PhD in Physiology in 2004 from Glasgow Caledonian University and completed a post-doctoral project in the Division of Immunology, Infection and Inflammation, before joining Prof Neil Evans group as a post-doc in the Division of Cell Sciences at the University of Glasgow in 2007. For the past 10 years the focus of her research has been on determining the effects, and understanding the risks, of maternal exposure to low-level chemical mixtures on long-term offspring health where she has used both sheep and human models.  Her work integrates behavioural, hormonal, molecular biology and ‘omics approaches to understand the risks of environmental chemical exposure on mammalian physiology and she has widely published the effects of maternal exposure to ‘real-life’ mixtures of chemicals (using sheep exposed to sludge-treated pastures) on offspring physiological systems, including effects on hypothalamic neurotransmitter systems, pituitary cell populations and changes in adult reproductive physiology. Her research also focuses on the effects of human exposures during pregnancy, including the effects of maternal smoking, on programming adverse fetal development and long term health consequences in later life (in collaboration with Prof Paul Fowler, University of Aberdeen).

 Dr. Joan MORRELL, Rutgers University, USA            

Impact of Gender on the Behavioural Processes and Neurobiological Substrates of Motivation for Voluntary Activity

Morrell is currently the Program Director of the Behavioral and Neural Sciences Graduate Program of Rutgers University Newark which trains graduate students to the Ph.D. level. The BNS program has a focus on multidisciplinary training of students across the domains of neuroscience.  This program benefits from the participation of the graduate faculties of Rutgers University-Newark from the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience (CMBN), the Department of Biological Sciences, and the Department of Psychology. More information can be found at: http://cmbn.rutgers.edu/behavioral-and-neural-sciences-graduate-program/

She specializes in research concerning steroid hormones and reproductive behavior, particularly maternal behavior with an emphasis on examining the systems that mediate maternal motivation. Morrell’s research seeks to discern the impact addictive drugs have on individuals’ preferences as well as the processes of drug dependency in animal models. Recent work explores brain circuits that mediate the motivation to exercise.   Her work has been supported by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the March of Dimes, NARSAD, and the Busch Biomedical Fund. The author or co-author of more than 115 peer-reviewed journal articles, reviews and book chapters, and more than 140 abstracts, results of Morrell’s research have been reported in numerous publications including Behavioral Neuroscience, Physiology & Behavior, Nature, Science, and the Journal of Comparative Neurology.  Morrell has trained 15 graduate students to the doctoral level. She also has trained 12 postdoctoral fellows and advised five senior fellows.

Morrell has served as editor for the Behavioral Neuroscience Section of Neuroscience (2007-2010), the official publication of the International Brain Research Organization. She also was a member of the editorial boards of Hormones and Behavior (1997-2009), Anatomy and Embryology (2004-2009), and the Journal of Histochemistry and Cytochemistry (1989-1993), as well as a member of the Endocrinology Study Section of the National Institutes of Health (1987-1991).

In 1973, Morrell received her doctoral degree from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and her bachelor of science degree from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1968. Morrell became a postdoctoral fellow at The Rockefeller University in New York in 1973. Prior to joining Rutgers, Morrell was a member of the faculty at The Rockefeller University where she was promoted to research associate in 1975, assistant professor in 1977, and associate professor in 1984. Morrell joined the Rutgers University faculty in 1986. 

Dr. Julie BAKKER, University of Liège Belgium

The Role of Sex Hormones vs Chromosomes in the Sexual Differentiation of the Human Brain

Julie Bakker studied biology at the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. After graduating in 1991, she conducted her doctoral thesis in Endocrinology & Reproduction at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands, under the supervision of Koos Slob. After defending her thesis in 1996, she went to Boston University where she was a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Michael Baum for 4 years. Julie Bakker finally settled in Liège at the Liège University, Belgium, in 2000, where she obtained a permanent research position funded by the Belgian Science Foundation (“Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique”; FNRS) in 2004. She was promoted to Senior Research Associate FNRS in 2012 and to Research Director FNRS in 2016. Her main research objective is to elucidate the genetic and neuroendocrine mechanisms underlying the sexual differentiation of the brain. She uses transgenic mouse models for more mechanistic studies on the sexual differentiation of the brain as well as neuroimaging techniques (functional and structural MRI) and postmortem analyses of patients with disorders of sexual differentiation (DSD) or suffering from gender dysphoria (GD) to translate and validate findings obtained in animal models. She is the current director of the department GIGA Neurosciences at Liège University.

Dr. Åsa PETERSEN, Lund University, Sweden

Hypothalamic Changes in Huntington Disease

Åsa Petersén received her PhD in Experimental Neuroscience in 2001 and her MD in 2005 at the Medical Faculty at Lund University, Sweden. She started her research group Translational Neuroendocrine Research Unit at Lund University in 2007. Petersén has combined her research positions with a clinical residency in psychiatry and now holds a combined position as Professor of Neuroscience at Lund University and Senior Consultant in Psychiatry. She has published around 90 research articles, reviews, book chapters and commentaries.

Petersén’s research is focused on the neurodegenerative and monogenic Huntington disease (HD), which has previously been considered a movement disorder with selective basal ganglia pathology. It is now well known that HD patients manifest with early non-motor features such as psychiatric symptoms, sleep problems and metabolic alterations. Petersén’s hypothesis is that hypothalamic dysfunction is involved in causing the early non-motor features of HD. She has published pioneering studies showing loss of orexin (hypocretin) and oxytoxin in the hypothalamus of patients and animal models of HD. Her studies have identified early hypothalamic changes in MR images from prodromal HD as well as alterations in key emotion and metabolism regulating genes in postmortem human HD hypothalami. Her exciting findings of the key role of the disease-causing mutant huntingtin protein in the hypothalamus for the development of depressive-like features accompanying metabolic dysfunction in HD mice have further opened up for important experiments dissecting out the critical neuronal networks involved.

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