In humans, the orofacial region is enormously important. It is the gateway for our interactions with the environment, food ingestion, communication and facial recognition. Therefore, not surprisingly, some of the most devastating and most common birth defects are those that affect the mouth and face, especially if they result in cleft lip and/or cleft palate. While much research is dedicated to secondary palate development much less is known about other orofacial structures. Our lab is interested in understanding the molecular signals and morphological changes governing two more understudied parts of the developing face, the embryonic mouth and primary palate development.

Our research is important for two reasons. First, abnormalities in orofacial development result in facial birth defects such as cleft lip/palate. Thus, understanding the molecular mechanisms that lead to the formation of these defects could help direct future treatments and/or preventative therapies. Second, as the orofacial region is derived from a common structure in all vertebrates, our research has the potential to help us understand the evolution of facial variability.

The Lab uses a comprehensive multi-disciplinary approach to study these important questions in an innovative system, the African clawed frog Xenopus laevis. We combine embryological techniques such as transplant and explant assays with standard gene knockdown, state of the art imaging and quantitative methods such geometric morphometrics to help us understand the molecular and cellular regulation of orofacial development.


About the PI:

Amanda meDickinson was a postdoctoral fellow at the Whitehead Institute at MIT, (Cambridge, MA) with Dr. Hazel Sive.  She received her Ph.D. in Neuroscience in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at Dalhousie University (NS, Canada) with Dr. Roger Croll.  Her first research experience was as an undergraduate honors student at Mount Allison University (NB, Canada).

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Full STEAM Ahead 2018 conference

This year’s Full STEAM Ahead conference was held on July 19th at Chesterfield’s Career and Technical Center. Middle school girls from Richmond and the surrounding areas get to participate in workshops that connects female role models that are in STEAM industries.

Our workshop was led by Deborah Howton and Allyson Kennedy. Topics that covered included the human face, frogs and by using frogs we learn a lot about how a face forms. We had a great time and look forward to it again next year!

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