McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Stem cell institute's recruit looks for genetic roots of brain disease

Published: December 23, 2013
Karun Singh
Karun Singh, scientist, Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, and assistant professor, Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences

The promise of discovering potential treatments for catastrophic diseases like autism and schizophrenia is being explored by Karun Singh at McMaster University's Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute (SCC-RI).

A neuroscientist and the institute's newest recruit, his pioneering research is concentrating on uncovering underlying genetic defects inside the brains of people with these, and other neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer's.

These are significant conditions. Autism impacts one in 88 Canadian children. Schizophrenia, a serious brain and mind disorder, affects 300,000 Canadians. And, more than 500,000 Canadians suffer from memory-robbing Alzheimer's disease.

Autism — and most psychiatric disorders — have a genetic component, and his research will search for clues by studying specific genetic mutations associated with these diseases, said Singh.

"Starting there, we will eventually try to model it in a derived brain (neural) cell. This will allow us to probe what is wrong and how that mutation gives rise to a defective brain cell," said Singh, assistant professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences.

Once he has uncovered what is abnormal, he plans to work to discover drugs that correct the defect.

Singh's research is a comfortable blend with investigations already underway in the institute, said Mick Bhatia, director of the SCC-RI. "Karun was an ideal recruit and fit for SCC-RI and sits in the pocket of where we strategically plan to go towards discovering new drugs for brain disorders that include Parkinson's and Alzheimer's."

Singh grew up in Hamilton and received his first science degree at McMaster. Most recently, he was a postdoctoral associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; where he investigated how psychiatric disease risk genes affect brain development and neural circuit formation.

Singh feels truly at home returning to Hamilton and McMaster because, from a neuroscience perspective, the stem cell institute offers young researchers with a unique specialty like his to establish themselves.

"In another place, you would have had to start from scratch. This institute is designed for someone to come and hit the ground running," he said.

"The environment is very welcoming and it's a young environment. I'm surrounded by peers who are all starting their careers. I can forge collaborations with people that I never could otherwise."

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