Research creates buzz for understanding Intellectual Disability

To many, the common fruit fly is just a pest to be shooed away.

For Western University professor Jamie Kramer, however, it’s a perfect model for examining the molecular goings-on behind brain processes like learning and memory.

“Amazingly, these processes are very similar in flies and other organisms, including mammals,” he said.

Extensive tools available to manipulate gene expression in specific regions of the insects’ brains also make them ideal to study. Kramer hopes fundamental mechanisms identified in flies will provide insight into our biology and into molecular mechanisms behind disease.



He and his team are looking primarily at the biological processes that switch genes on and off – a field known as epigenetics – and at chromatin, which is the combination of DNA and proteins of which chromosomes are comprised. Kramer has previously shown chromatin regulation is one of the most frequently disrupted processes underlying neurodevelopmental disorders like Intellectual Disability.

“We hope to provide a better understanding of the role epigenetics and chromatin play in learning and memory, which will improve fundamental knowledge of biological processes that are important to the cause of Intellectual Disability,” he said.

Kramer, a professor in both the Faculty of Science and the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, was appointed the new Tier 2 Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Neuroepigenetics Friday morning. These chairs recognize the country’s best scholars across disciplines and represent national and international leadership in their fields.

Western also saw chemist Tsun-Kong Sham’s Tier 1 CRC in Materials and Synchrotron Radiation renewed for another term following a full re-application process, and economist Lance Lochner promoted to a Tier 1 chair in Human Capital and Inequality.

The Chairs program has been designed to encourage and promote top research and innovation in universities. Tier 1 Chairs are awarded $200,000 annually for seven years to fund their research and are awarded to outstanding researchers who have developed reputations as world leaders in their fields.  Tier 2 Chairholders are awarded $100,000 annually for five years and are recognized as exceptional and emerging researchers with the potential to lead their respective fields.