Neuroscience of Speech

Speech and language skills form the foundation for later educational and academic achievement and optimal social and mental health development. The Neuroscience of Speech group at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute is interested in how speech, language and literacy develops and how disorders occur in each of these areas.

The group examines genetic, neural and social-environmental predictors of speech, language and literacy development. The team’s overarching aim is to develop intervention strategies based on research evidence so children with speech and language difficulties reach their full potential. We conduct speech and language phenotyping in both rare inherited or de novo genetic conditions as well as the general population, generating rich data for broader generalisation.

The group’s collaborations with renowned child speech and language researchers nationally and globally enable it to compare its data with other international cohorts. This allows for better insights into how speech and language develops, what goes wrong and why it matters.

Group Leaders: 
Group Members: 
Dr Amanda Brignell
Role: 
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Olivia van Reyk
Role: 
Research Officer
Jess Boyce
Role: 
PhD Student
Ruth Braden
Role: 
PhD Student
Katherine Sanchez
Role: 
PhD Student
Miya St John
Role: 
Research Assistant
Samantha Turner
Role: 
PhD Student
Lauren Pigdon
Role: 
Research Assistant/DPsych Student
Laura Conway
Role: 
PhD Student
Petrea Cahir
Role: 
Research Assistant
Dr Cristina McKean
Role: 
Visiting Academic
Cathie Nolan
Role: 
Honorary Fellow
Prof. Gina Conti-Ramsden
Role: 
Honorary Fellow
Prof. James Law
Role: 
Honorary Fellow
Dr Jarrad Lum
Role: 
Honorary Fellow
Prof. Mark Onslow
Role: 
Honorary Fellow
Dr Patricia Eadie
Role: 
Honorary Fellow
Prof. Jan Nicholson
Role: 
Honorary Fellow
Kevin Durkin
Role: 
Honorary Fellow
Dr Susan Block
Role: 
Honorary Fellow
Dr Elaina Kefalianos
Role: 
Honorary Fellow
Prof Sheena Reilly
Role: 
Honorary Fellow

Centre of Research Excellence in Speech and Language
The Centre of Research Excellence in Speech and Language is an international collaboration of experts in the fields of speech pathology, paediatric neurology, neuroscience, genetics and bioinformatics whose core vision is to transform speech pathology practice by identifying, understanding and targeting the underlying causes of developmental speech and language disorders. The Centre of Research Excellence in Speech and Language brings together investigators across Melbourne (MCRI, University of Melbourne, Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research), New South Wales (The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Hunter Genetics), Queensland (Menzies Health Institute Queensland), the UK (University College London Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health) and the Netherlands (Max Planck Institute of Psycholinguistics) and is funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council for the next five years.

Elucidating the neural pathways and genetic basis of speech
The Murdoch Children's Research Institute, The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute are examining genetic and neural contributions to childhood speech and language disorder. The researchers are looking for child and adult participants with any form of speech and language disorders to take part in the project. They are interested in large families with a history of speech or language disorder, as well as cases where the disorder is not present in other family members. The researchers are also recruiting identical and non-identical twins into the study. This study has ethics approval through The Royal Children's Hospital and Austin Health Human Research Ethics Committees. The study has been funded by the Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant. For further information on this study, please refer to the Genetics of Speech Disorders study page.

The HEARing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC)
The HEARing CRC is a collaborative effort between five core and 21 support staff members including esteemed researchers, clinicians and organisations, which aims to reduce the impact of hearing loss through research, technological development and evidence-based training and implementation. The Hearing, Language and Literacy group houses a number of projects for the CRC, including an investigation into the brain pathways supporting language development in children with and without hearing impairment.

The Early Language In Victoria Study (ELVS)
ELVS is a longitudinal study funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). The aim of the study is to learn more about how language develops in young children and why language and literacy development is more difficult for some. The group will use this information to develop early intervention and prevention programs for children who are at risk of language impairments. The ELVS study began in September 2003 and since then, over 1,900 families have participated from when their babies were eight months old. Data is currently being collected when the children turn 11.

Stuttering Study (ELVS)
The Stuttering sub-study looks at children who started to stutter from the age of two. Because the children were recruited at a young age, it allows researchers to explore the prevalence, predictors and outcomes of stuttering as the children develop, taking into account environmental and biological factors.  Intervention can be further developed using this community-based data.