Consortium on Individual Development


Newly appointed assistant professor Lara Wierenga

Currently finishing up final waves of data collection at the Leiden- Consortium on Individual development

Lara Wierenga, assistant professor Leiden University, WP2

My main interest is to unravel why some individuals are more vulnerable to develop developmental disorders than others. My PhD project at University Medical Center Utrecht focused on typical and atypical brain development in childhood and adolescence (promotor prof. Sarah Durston, dissertation available here). With MRI and DTI techniques I mapped brain developmental patterns in both regional structure and connectivity. Besides typical brain development, I also examined developmental disorders including ADHD and ASD. As part of my PhD I worked in the lab of prof. Jay Giedd at the University of California, San Diego. I stayed on as a postdoc, which resulted in a number of papers on the PING dataset. One of these papers showed that males have greater variability in brain structure then females.

When I came back to the Netherlands four years ago, it was to work in Leiden with prof. Eveline Crone and the BrainTime dataset. BrainTime is a large longitudinal project of typically developing children and adolescence. My work with BrainTime focused on mapping sex differences in developmental patterns, variability and pubertal hormones. As males have an up to 4 times higher prevalence in ADHD and ASD, I wanted to increase our understanding of male vulnerability to developmental disorders by examining sex effects in the brain. We replicated earlier findings on greater male variability in the BrainTime dataset.

My experience working with developmental MRI samples instilled the importance of data quality. To make the quality assessment of MRI scans less subjective I developed a hybrid human-machine driven tool that predicts quality of processed MRI data (the Qoala-T tool). As a result of my passion for open science, we made this tool user friendly and publicly available on github. Throughout my career I have worked with large collaborative cohorts, and have recently submitted a paper in collaboration with the ENIGMA lifespan working group.

In 2020 I started working on the Leiden – Consortium on Individual Development. We are currently collecting the last and second last waves of data from the early and late childhood cohorts (of six waves in total). Together with PhD student Lina van Drunen, I will further test genetic and environmental factors of sex effects on brain development. Furthermore, we developed a novel task to not only test who but also when individuals are most susceptible to environmental factors. To do so, we have adopted a sensory motor synchronisation task to test the interaction between early experience, brain development and performance.

I am beyond excited to work as an assistant professor on this project as the L-CID project is unique world-wide to answer these questions. But above all it is wonderful to work with a highly talented team and inspiring collaborators.