Professor Simon Fisher

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Biography and Keynote Speaker Abstract

Simon E. Fisher is a director of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and Professor of Language and Genetics at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. He obtained a Natural Sciences degree at Cambridge University, UK, followed by a doctorate in Human Genetics at Oxford University, UK. For his postdoctoral research Simon joined Prof. Anthony Monaco's group at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics (WTCHG) in Oxford, where he worked on genetic analyses of human neurodevelopmental disorders, and isolated the first case of a gene implicated in speech and language deficits. In 2002, Simon was awarded with a Royal Society University Research Fellowship to lead his own laboratory at the WTCHG, using state-of-the-art methods to uncover how language-related genes influence the brain. In 2010 Simon was appointed a Scientific Member of the Max Planck Society and became director of the Nijmegen MPI, heading a new department devoted to understanding the functional links between genetics and language. He is author of >155 journal articles, 13 book chapters, and has given >135 invited talks at departmental colloquia, international conferences and science festivals. Awards include the Francis Crick Medal and Lecture, and the Eric Kandel Young Neuroscientists Prize.

Professor Simon Fisher has worked on identifying genetic factors that contribute to developmental disorders such as dyslexia and speech and language impairments. During this time he and his colleagues discovered FOXP2, the first case of a gene mutated in speech and language impairment. In 2010 he was appointed director of a new department specifically devoted to "Language and Genetics" at the Max Planck Institute in Nijmegen.


A genomic perspective on speech, language and reading

Investigation of the biological basis of human speech, language and reading is being transformed by developments in molecular technologies, including high-throughput genotyping and next-generation DNA sequencing of whole genomes. These advances are shedding new light on the genetic architecture underlying major language-related disorders, including speech apraxia, specific language impairment, and developmental dyslexia, as well as that contributing to variation in relevant skills in the general population. My talk will explain how state-of-the-art methods are uncovering a range of genetic mechanisms, from rare mutations of large effect to common DNA variants that increase risk in a subtle way. I will go on to highlight the unusual challenges, as well as the exciting opportunities, associated with studying the genomics of language-related traits. Finally, I will use examples like FOXP2 to illustrate that gene discovery is not an end goal of the research, but rather a starting point for deciphering the critical neurobiological pathways.


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