Amina Abubakar is a developmental psychologist and Director of the Institute for Human Development at Aga Khan University in Nairobi. She is also a senior research scientist affiliated with the Neuroscience Unit at KEMRI Wellcome Trust. She studied educational psychology at Kenyatta University, and went on to study developmental cross-cultural psychology at Tilburg University in the Netherlands where she obtained her Ph.D. in 2008. Her research concerns three broad areas: 1) the sequelae of childhood diseases, 2) the epidemiology of neurodevelopmental disorders, specifically autism spectrum disorders (ASDs); and 3) predictors of adolescent mental health across cultural contexts. Dr. Abubakar has a particular interest in creating culturally appropriate strategies for identifying, monitoring and rehabilitating children exposed to HIV, malnutrition and malaria. Dr. Abubakar has also been instrumental in building culturally appropriate measures of child development currently in use in 10 African countries.
Kirsty Donald is a Professor in Paediatric Neurology within the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of Cape Town and Deputy Director of the UCT Neuroscience Institute. Prof Donald has an interest in developmental disabilities as they manifest in resource-limited settings, such as South Africa. She heads a clinical service at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital which sees both common and rare, complex multisystemic disorders (autism, genetic syndromes with associated developmental problems, cerebral palsy amongst others). Prof. Donald’s specific research interests include the effects of maternal mental health on the development of infants, as well as preventable causes of neurodisability, such as alcohol and methamphetamine exposure, organophosphate poisoning, and the neurological and neurocognitive complications of HIV. Her research has focused on using multiple imaging methods, including structural, functional and diffusion imaging, and proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (HMRS) to facilitate a deeper understanding of the pathophysiological mechanisms and genetic risk factors associated with depression, as well as substance exposure and other pediatric exposures prevalent in the South African setting.
Elise Robinson is an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and an institute member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. She is also an affiliated faculty member with the Analytic and Translational Genetics Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital. Robinson’s research focuses on the genetic epidemiology of behavior and cognition. She is interested in using genetic data to understand the biology of neurodevelopmental variation, and to study differences within and between neuropsychiatric disorders. The Robinson lab uses techniques from statistical genetics and epidemiology to study how common and rare genetic risk factors for severe neuropsychiatric disorders may differ and develops approaches for examining these questions in large samples.
Charles Newton was born in Kenya, qualified as a medical doctor in Cape Town, and received postgraduate training in Pediatrics in Manchester and London. As a lecturer at Oxford, he returned to Kilifi Kenya in 1989, to help set up a unit to study severe malaria in African children. Thereafter he spent two years as a post-doctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins, USA; studying mechanisms of brain damage in central nervous system infections. In 1998 he was awarded a Wellcome Trust Senior Clinical Fellowship at University College London, to return to Kilifi, to study central nervous system infections in children. He has published and conducts research on a wide variety of subjects concerning children in tropical countries, including central nervous system infections, the epidemiology of epilepsy and neurological impairment; and the study of tetanus, jaundice and sepsis in neonates. At present he is conducting studies of autism and epilepsy in Africa and working on sickle cell disease in Tanzania. In 2011 he took up a professorship in Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, though he continues to be based in Kilifi, Kenya.
Celia van der Merwe is currently in the second year of her postdoctoral fellowship with the Robinson lab at the Broad Institute, where she works on heterogeneity across cases and cohorts affected with autism, and common and rare genetic influences on autism. She obtained her PhD in Human Genetics at the University of Stellenbosch in Cape Town, South Africa in 2015, where she studied the molecular effects of mitochondrial dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease. Thereafter, she completed a 3-year postdoc at the University of Cape Town with a focus on genetic variation and correlation between psychiatric disorders and brain structure. Celia is also a research alum of GINGER (the Global Initiative for Neuropsychiatric Genetics Education in Research), and is passionate about working with diverse populations to advance knowledge of psychiatric disorders and developmental delays in these communities to better improve analysis and treatment designs.
Victoria de Menil has studied and implemented mental health programs in low- and middle-income countries since 2003. While working in Argentina, East Africa and South India, Dr. de Menil participated in the emergence of the field of global mental health from different disciplinary perspectives. Her academic training is in health and social policy, in which she has a PhD from the London School of Economics focused on the economic and health impacts of non-governmental provision of mental health services in Kenya. Outside of research, Dr. de Menil has been involved in reporting on mental health and human rights within institutional settings and collaborating on a social franchising initiative for mental health, led by the non-governmental organization BasicNeeds.