Dr Deirdre Birtles
Research Fellow, School of Psychology
Dr Dee Birtles joined the Institute for Research in Child Development as a Research Fellow in 2010. Previously Dee worked with Professor Mitch Glickstein in the Department of Anatomy, UCL studying the role of the cerebellum in visually guided behaviour and completed an MSc in Neurological Science. She then received a Research into Ageing Prize Studentship to support her PhD studies at UCL on age-related changes in postural control supervised by Professor Roger Woledge at the Institute for Human Performance. From 2002 – 2010 she held a research post at the Visual Development Unit working with Professors Janette Atkinson and Oliver Braddick (UCL / University of Oxford) combining interests in developmental visual neuroscience and visuomotor control with longitudinal studies of children with developmental disorders including children with Down syndrome, Williams syndrome and children born very preterm. She has a particular interest in the development of bimanual coordination in young children and children with brain injury and has recently published and presented her research in this area at several international meetings.
Her recent research activity at UEL focuses on cognitive and visuomotor development in children and includes a long-term follow-up of a cohort of children with Down syndrome studying perceptual-motor behaviour from infancy to adolescence; a study on the long-term effects of prenatal MDMA exposure on motor development (DAISY Study) and the impact of early bilingualism on the development of executive function and fine motor skills in young children.
Many everyday skills such as tying shoelaces or buttoning a shirt require coordinated use of both hands. Although the actions of the two hands may differ, they are bound together spatially and temporally to achieve a common goal. Recent work with infants aged between 9 and 30 months showed that infants less than 12 months of age have trouble performing bimanual tasks that require the two hands to carry out different actions at the same time and it is not until 18 months of age that the majority of infants show well coordinated use of the two hands. ‘Bimanual strategies for object retrieval in infants and young children’, (doi:10.1007/s00221-011-2672-5).
Pre-term birth is a major risk factor for motor impairment and associations between abnormalities in the brain’s white matter and poor neurodevelopmental outcome are frequently reported. A study comparing bimanual coordination in preterm and full-term infants aged 13-18 months showed that the ability to synchronise the two hands in an object retrieval task is impaired in young children born preterm and performance is related to the severity of white matter injury http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-8749.2012.04283.x/pdf.
Ongoing bimanual coordination research includes collaboration with Dr Dido Green, Reader in Rehabilitation at Oxford Brookes University.
Infant health and development
The DAISY study was the first ever study of Ecstasy (MDMA) taken in pregnancy on the neurodevelopment of babies. A collaboration between colleagues from UEL, Swansea and Case-Western University, US and funded by NIH involved recruitment of women from across the UK and longitudinal assessment of babies from birth to two years. Several key findings from the study have recently been published http://www.uel.ac.uk/ircd/projects/babies/daisy/birth-and-infant-cognitive-outcomes/. The findings suggest that prenatal exposure to Ecstasy affects early motor development in young infants. The children that took part in the original DAISY study are now aged between 6 and 11 years of age and Dee is coordinating a follow-up of the children to establish whether there are any long term effects on motor-development of prenatal exposure to Ecstasy.
The IRCD has an established reputation for research on neurocognition in children with developmental difficulties (Down syndrome, Autism). Dee is continuing this work with a longitudinal study of perceptual-motor behaviour from infancy to adolescence in a cohort of children with Down syndrome. Colleagues from the University of Bologna have shown how impaired cerebellar neurogenesis occurs early in foetal development in Down syndrome http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1750-3639.2010.00459.x/abstract. Dee and fellow researcher Sara Miroballi have investigated how these very early differences in cerebellum development impact on later motor function. Preliminary results of this longitudinal study were recently presented at BNA2013.
Dee is a reviewer for the following journals: Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, Disability and Rehabilitation, Early Human Development.
Publically available research outputs are available to download from UEL's Research Open
Peer-reviewed Journal Articles
Lee, J., Birtles, D., Wattam-Bell, J., Atkinson, J., & Braddick, O. (2012). Latency measures of pattern-reversal VEP in adults and infants: Different information from transient P1 response and steady-state phase. Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, 53(3), 1306–1314. doi:10.1167/iovs.11-7631
Lee, J., Birtles, D., Wattam-Bell, J., Atkinson, J., & Braddick, O. (2012b). Orientation-reversal VEP: Comparison of phase and peak latencies in adults and infants. Vision Research, 63, 50–57. doi:10.1016/j.visres.2012.04.015
Birtles, D., Anker, S., Atkinson, J., Shellens, R., Briscoe, A., Mahoney, M., & Braddick, O. (2011). Bimanual strategies for object retrieval in infants and young children. Experimental Brain Research, 211(2), 207–218. doi:10.1007/s00221-011-2672-5
Wattam-Bell, J., Birtles, D., Nyström, P., Hofsten, C. von, Rosander, K., Anker, S., … Braddick, O. (2010). Reorganization of global form and motion processing during human visual development. Current Biology, 20(5), 411–415. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2009.12.020
Shirai, N., Birtles, D., Wattam-Bell, J., Yamaguchi, M. K., Kanazawa, S., Atkinson, J., & Braddick, O. (2009). Asymmetrical cortical processing of radial expansion/contraction in infants and adults. Developmental Science, 12(6), 946–955. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2009.00839.x
Atkinson, J., Braddick, O., Anker, S., Nardini, M., Birtles, D., Rutherford, M. A., … Cowan, F. M. (2008). Cortical vision, MRI and developmental outcome in preterm infants. Archives of Disease in Childhood: Fetal and Neonatal Edition, 93(4), 292–297. doi:10.1136/adc.2007.116988
Birtles, D., Braddick, O., Wattam-Bell, J., Wilkinson, A., & Atkinson, J. (2007). Orientation and motion-specific visual cortex responses in infants born preterm. NeuroReport, 18(18), 1975–1979. doi:10.1097/WNR.0b013e3282f228c8
Braddick, O., Birtles, D., Wattam-Bell, J., & Atkinson, J. (2005). Motion- and orientation-specific cortical responses in infancy. Vision Research, 45(25–26), 3169–3179. doi:10.1016/j.visres.2005.07.021
Woledge, R. C., Birtles, D. B., & Newham, D. J. (2005). The variable component of lateral body sway during walking in young and older humans. Journals of Gerontology. Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 60(11), 1463–1468. doi:10.1093/gerona/60.11.1463
Birtles, D. B., Rayson, M. P., Casey, A., Jones, D. A., & Newham, D. J. (2003). Venous obstruction in healthy limbs: A model for compartment syndrome? Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 35(10), 1638–1644. doi:10.1249/01.MSS.0000089347.55980.9D
Birtles, D. B., Rayson, M. P., Jones, D. A., Padiar, N., Casey, A., & Newham, D. J. (2003). Effect of eccentric exercise on patients with chronic compartment syndrome. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 88(6), 565–571. doi:10.1007/s00421-002-0740-z
Birtles, D. B., Minden, D., Wickes, S. J., Puxley, K. P., Llewellyn, M. G., Casey, A., … Newham, D. J. (2002). Chronic exertional compartment syndrome: Muscle changes with exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 34(12), 1900–1906. doi:10.1097/00005768-200212000-00007
Birtles, D., Miroballi, S. & Moore, D.G. (2014). Neurological subtle signs in adolescents with Down syndrome. Invited oral presentation. Alzheimer’s Disease in Down Syndrome: From molecules to cognition. Wellcome Trust Scientific Conference, Hinxton, Cambridge, UK.
Bukauskaite, M. & Birtles, D. (2013). The impact of early bilingualism on executive functioning and fine motor skills. Poster Presentation. CogDev 2013. Joint Annual Conference of the BPS Cognitive and Developmental Sections. Reading, UK.
Birtles, D., Miroballi, S. & Moore, D.G. (2013). The role of the cerebellum in long-term neurodevelopment in children with Down syndrome. Poster Presentation. BNA2013: Festival of Neuroscience. London, UK.
Birtles, D., Atkinson, J., Anker, S. A., Braddick, O. J., Ricci, D., Groppo, M., Cowan, F. M.& Rutherford, M. A. (2012). Bimanual coordination in young children born preterm: effects of white matter injury. Invited Platform Presentation. 12th International Child Neurology Congress, Brisbane, Australia. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, (2012), Volume 54, S4, p162.
Birtles, D., Miroballi, S. & Moore, D.G. (2012). The role of the cerebellum in motor, cognitive and emotional development in children with Down’s Syndrome. Invited Oral Presentation. Down’s Syndrome Association Research Symposium. London, UK.
Miroballi, S., Birtles, D., Guidi, S., Moore, D.G Bartesaghi, R. (2012). A psychobiological view of Down’s Syndrome: Impairment of cerebellar development and early motor disabilities. Poster Presentation. Down’s Syndrome Association Research Symposium. London, UK.
Birtles, D., Atkinson, J., Braddick, O. J., Chew, A., Rutherford, M. A. & Cowan, F. M. (2012). Does cortical oculomotor control in infancy predict motor planning and executive function in children born preterm with white matter injury? Scientific Poster. 3rd UK Paediatreic Neuropsychology Symposium: Early Behaviour Relationships & Prognostic Indicators, London, UK. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, (2012), Volume 54, S2, p25.
Miroballi, S., Bartesaghi, R., Birtles, D., Guidi, S., Moore, D.G. & Zoccoli, G. (2010). Impairment of cerebellar development and early motor and cognitive disabilities. Oral Presentation. UK and Europe Down syndrome Forum. Portsmouth, UK.
Birtles, D., Atkinson, J., Anker, S. A., Braddick, O. J., Rutherford, M. A. & Cowan, F. M. (2009). Bimanual coordination in children born preterm. ESF Research Conference, Gene Expression to Neurobiology and Behaviour: human brain development and developmental disorders, Saint Feliu de Guixols, Spain.
Birtles, D., Atkinson, J., Anker, S. A., Braddick, O. J., Rutherford, M. A. & Cowan, F. M. (2009). Bimanual coordination in children born preterm. Progress in Motor Control VII, Marseille.
Atkinson, J., Birtles, D., Anker, S., Braddick, O., Rutherford, M., Cowan, F. & Edwards, D. (2008). High-density VEP measures of global form and motion processing in infants born very preterm. [Abstract]. Journal of Vision, 8(6):422.
Birtles, D., Atkinson, J., Wattam-Bell, J., Wilkinson, A., & Braddick, O. (2007). Orientation and motion-specific cortical responses in infants born preterm. IBRO World Congress of Neuroscience, Melbourne, Australia.
Birtles, D., Shellens, R., Briscoe, A., Mahoney, M & Atkinson, J. (2007). The development of bimanual coordination in toddlers. IBRO World Congress of Neuroscience, Motor Control Satellite Meeting, Darwin, Australia.
Birtles, D., Anker, S. A., Atkinson, J., Braddick, O. J., Edwards, A. D., Rutherford, M. A., Dyet, L., & Cowan, F. M. (2006). Cortical visual function in premature infants [Abstract]. Proceedings of the Physiological Society 3: C71.
Birtles, D.B., Bruce, S.A., & Woledge, R.C. (2006). A comparison between young and older human subjects of movements of the body and of the centre of pressure during quiet standing. Proceedings of the Physiological Society 1: PC20.