Understanding the Brain in its Development

Dr. Casey Paquola to receive funding from the German Research Foundation’s (DFG) Emmy Noether Programme

2 April 2024

During childhood, it is not only a person’s outward appearance that changes, but also their brain. Dr. Casey Paquola and a new research group will soon be investigating exactly how development at the cellular level contributes to the development of the brain’s special cognitive abilities. For this purpose, the neuroscientist from Forschungszentrum Jülich will receive funding of up to € 1.5 million from the German Research Foundation’s (DFG) Emmy Noether Programme.

Paquola, who was born in Australia, received her doctorate in medicine from the University of Sydney and then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Montreal Neurological Institute in Canada before moving to Forschungszentrum Jülich. In her research, she works at the interface between microscopy, neuroimaging, and computer modelling. Her research is focused on how the human brain develops from birth to adulthood and how the microstructural changes taking place contribute to the development of cognitive abilities such as spatial and logical thinking, language processing, and memory.

Das Gehirn in seiner Entwicklung verstehen
Dr. Casey Paquola

“Thanks to state-of-the-art imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), we now know fairly accurately which regions of the brain are active during certain tasks, in other words where these tasks are taking place,” explains Dr. Casey Paquola. “But one important question remains unanswered: how exactly do the brain regions contribute to cognition?”

Her ambitious project aims to help close this gap. To this end, the “hardware” – the microarchitecture of the brain – needs to be linked to observed patterns of brain activity. Neurodevelopmental research, which is the study of brain development over time, offers a unique opportunity to understand these causal relationships.

“Funding from the DFG’s Emmy Noether Programme enables me to set up my own research group. The aim is to gain a better understanding of how the observed changes in brain structure affect cognitive abilities and which environmental factors can influence this development,” says the brain researcher from Forschungszentrum Jülich’s Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine (INM-7).

In the long term, her aim is to establish reference values for normal brain development. To this end, she analyses brain structure data from various age groups. These reference values should make it possible to identify abnormal brain developments that could point to diseases or disorders.

The DFG’s Emmy-Noether Programme

Funding from the DFG’s Emmy Noether Programme supports outstanding early-career scientists in setting up independent research groups and realizing ambitious, innovative projects in order to qualify for the post of a professor at a university. To be selected for the programme, applicants must go through a demanding application process.

Last Modified: 08.04.2024