Associate Professor Julian Heng
- Neurodegenerative disorders
You need only hear Julian’s research goal to know why he’s a CHIRI researcher – he’s driven to understand how the brain is put together and apply this knowledge to giving individuals the best start to life and maintaining good mental health with age.
Julian’s focus is on defining the genetic basis for neural circuit formation in the brain. He believes that understanding how our DNA shapes the way our brain is put together is the key to understanding how our brains are unique as individuals. Julian and his research partners, clinical collaborators and team members practice a branch of molecular bioscience known as functional genomics – the study of how changes in a person’s DNA can directly influence their ability to undertake tasks in everyday life. Julian has discovered more than half a dozen genes for brain diseases, which are important for two main reasons.
Firstly, brain disease gene discovery is crucial to enable clinicians to pinpoint the exact genetic cause of brain disorders for many families. Secondly, by determining how these disease genes are important to brain cells, Julian is working to develop novel treatments for these conditions, including developmental disorders of the brain and early onset neurodegeneration.
Early in his career, Julian was a CJ Martin Fellow (University of Melbourne, Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health) and a Medical Research Council Career Development Fellow (National Institute for Medical Research, UK). In 2010, he was appointed Group Leader at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute, and received a Level 1 Career Development Award from the National Health and Medical Research Council to study the genetic mechanisms of brain development and disorders.
At CHIRI, he’s working on developing advanced methods of diagnosing disease-causing genes for brain disorder; and a cure for early-onset neurodegeneration caused by a mutation to TBCD, an essential brain gene.
Research interests – neuroscience; molecular biology; functional genomics; Neurodevelopmental Disorder; brain malformations; genetic variation.