Hillary Maddin

Host institution

Carleton University

Granting agency


Project description

How skulls evolved could shed light on human diseases

Brain researchers have devoted intense study towards understanding how mammalian brains and skulls develop and the critical interactions between the two. In short, evolutionary change in the brain affects the shape and form of skulls.  But, so far, research has not thoroughly examined how these interactions have evolved over time, information that that could shed light on human brain development and disease. Study of amphibians could hold important answers. 

Dr. Hillary Maddin is studying the fossil records of early tetrapod animals to understand how the shape and form of their skulls have been influenced by evolutionary changes in the brain, and how this relates to origin of modern amphibian form. The second stage of the research involves working with embryonic salamanders and frogs to transplant brain tissue from one animal to another to identify how precise regions of the brain affect skull shape.

"Medical malformations often can be the result of what might be a reversal back to very primitive developmental process – early stages in evolution that have been reactivated. By looking at amphibians, we get a better idea of what the true primitive conditions are, which would help us to understand if these diseases or malformations are linked to these primitive conditions or are completely novel mutations. It's fundamental information that could lead to a better understanding of the origins of human disease."

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