Researching the Human Brain

Saskia Freytag is a researcher at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. Saskia has a PhD in statistics and currently works on high dimensional data analysis, exploring how genes are expressed in the human brain.

Growing up in Germany I spent many weekends conducting experiments with my dad who is a physicist. My brother and I would look on as he demonstrated home creations such as self-made rockets powered by pressure and pendulums attached to the kitchen ceiling. We would then investigate the theories. I guess it was because of these experiences that I always enjoyed maths at school.

Weirdly it was through a conference in the Netherlands that I found my way to Australia. I gave my first scientific presentation in front of an international audience and afterwards Professor Terry Speed, a leading Australian statistician based at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI), approached me with a job offer. Which is how I ended up where I am today.

My work at WEHI explores how genes are expressed in the human brain throughout development – from foetus to old age. The brain is an organ that undergoes a tremendous amount of change throughout a person’s lifetime and using gene expression we can start to understand why and how these changes happen. This is important because many diseases originating in the brain, such as mental illnesses and neurological disorders, manifest because of misregulation of genes during brain development.

The human brain is one of the final scientific frontiers and is incredibly complex and hard to study. I use data, mathematical models and new technologies to explore areas we never thought possible. These advances are transforming the future of medical research, which is really exciting.

Ten years ago, some of the things that we are able to do today would have seemed impossible; the next decade will be so exciting and data science, mathematics and statistics will be at the heart of it all.

Saskia Freytag is an ambassador for the CHOOSEMATHS Careers Awareness Campaign

Researching the Human Brain
CHOOSEMATHS is a joint initiative of the Australian Mathematical Science Institute and the BHP Billiton Foundation.
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