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13 July 2009

UQ's Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) will host a workshop for clinicians and scientists seeking to better understand the syndromes associated with a brain development condition made famous in the movie Rain Man.

UQ's Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) will host a workshop for clinicians and scientists seeking to better understand the syndromes associated with a brain development condition made famous in the movie Rain Man.

The workshop will feature some of the world's leading experts in development of the corpus callosum – the largest fibre tract in the brain, which connects neurons in the left and right cerebral hemispheres.

Malformation and absence (agenesis) of the corpus callosum are rare developmental disorders that result in a wide spectrum of symptoms, ranging from severe cerebral palsy, epilepsy and autism to relatively mild learning problems.

The Hollywood screenplay Rain Man was inspired by the very real abilities of an American man, Kim Peek, whose brain lacks a corpus callosum.

Like the character portrayed in the movie, Mr Peek is capable of extraordinary mental agility, although he nevertheless faces many day-to-day challenges with seemingly simple tasks.

QBI's Associate Professor Linda Richards said the workshop was an opportunity for clinicians and scientists to better understand the fundamental brain mechanisms that regulate the plasticity and formation of connections in the brain.

“Understanding what happens inside the brain during its development may hold the key to solving a wide range of neurological disorders,” Dr Richards said.

“Advanced imaging techniques being developed at QBI and other research centres around the world are expected to play an important role in better understanding this condition.”

Among the workshop's objectives is to form an international alliance of clinicians and scientists working together to develop diagnostic tests and treatments for children and adults with agenesis of the corpus callosum.

“We've already identified about 30 candidate genes in animal models and it is likely many of these genes regulate corpus callosum formation in humans,” Dr Richards said.

“If we could more accurately identify the causes of agenesis of the corpus callosum we can develop therapies to treat people with this range of disorders.”

Among the 12 leading scientists and clinicians speaking at the workshop will be Associate Professor Elliott Sherr (University of California, San Francisco), an internationally recognised leader in imaging and genetics of corpus callosum agenesis.

The workshop will be held at the Queensland Brain Institute on Tuesday, July 14.