Oct. 27, 2022

Killam Laureate seeks to understand brain structure to identify children with reading disabilities

Meaghan Perdue awarded University of Calgary Killam Postdoctoral Fellowship
Meaghan Perdue smiles at the camera in hallway
Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

From her initial career aspirations to become an elementary school teacher, Dr. Meaghan Perdue, PhD, became interested in research during an undergraduate psychology course. Perdue’s interests in language, reading, and brain development led her on a 10-year research path from Boston, Mass. to the Developmental Neuroimaging Lab at the Alberta Children’s Hospital with principal investigator Dr. Catherine Lebel, PhD.

In Canada, approximately two to four children in every classroom struggle with the most common reading disability, dyslexia. Using imaging techniques that were developed for a medical setting, Perdue is examining the brain structure of children learning to read. Uncovering the relationships of neurochemistry and reading will contribute to the scientific understanding of brain development. This knowledge will allow for reading disabilities to be identified earlier on in childhood.

“This research will give us a much better understanding of the actual biological mechanisms that support learning to read and skilled reading,” says Perdue, a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Radiology, Cumming School of Medicine (CSM).

Children are likely born at risk for reading difficulties but will often not be identified until Grade 3 after persistently struggling in school. “We're hoping that by learning more about the brain, we can eventually incorporate an understanding of the brain traits to help to identify kids earlier on in preschool,” says Perdue.

“Remediation of reading ability in children is most successful when the intervention is received in early childhood.”

Perdue sits on an MRI control room examining images of a brain on her computer screen

Meaghan Perdue examines the brain structure of children learning to read in order to help identify reading disabilities like dyslexia earlier on in childhood.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

“Meaghan is an accomplished neuroscientist, and an emerging star in the field of brain and reading development,” says Lebel. “She is now well positioned to continue her impactful work at the University of Calgary.”

The two-year Killam Postdoctoral Fellowship will allow for Perdue to work closely with Lebel and collaborator Dr. Ashley Harris, PhD, to apply additional advanced imaging techniques to her study. She will also be able to dig deeper into her research questions leveraging data previously collected in the lab by Lebel.

“I’m looking forward to connecting with the broader Killam community, which is a prestigious group of scholars at all levels across Canada,” she says. “I am honoured to be a part of this research community, and what it has to offer is very exciting.”

Perdue earned both her MS (2018) and her PhD (2021) in developmental psychology from the University of Connecticut. During her PhD she was awarded the 2020 Isabelle Y. Liberman Award which recognizes and encourages young researchers who are investigating topics related to cognitive science and reading. She is an Eyes High Postdoctoral Scholar, active mentor, science communicator, and published peer-reviewed author.

Catherine Lebel is an associate professor in the Department of Radiology at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM), and a member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) and Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI). She is a Canada Research Chair in Paediatric Neuroimaging.

Ashley Harris is an associate professor in the Department of Radiology at the CSM and a member of the CSM’s HBI, ACHRI, and the Owerko Centre within ACHRI. She is a Canada Research Chair in Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy in Brain Injury.

Child Health and Wellness
The University of Calgary is driving science and innovation to transform the health and well-being of children and families. Led by the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, top scientists across the campus are partnering with Alberta Health Services, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, and our community to create a better future for children through research.

Led by the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, the University of Calgary’s Brain and Mental Health research strategy provides a unifying direction for brain and mental health research campus wide. This exciting strategy positions University of Calgary researchers to unlock new discoveries and treatments for brain health in our community by working in interdisciplinary teams.

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