Dr. Martha Herbert is an Assistant Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, a Pediatric Neurologist and Neuroscientist at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and an affiliate of the Harvard-MIT-MGH Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, where she is director of the TRANSCEND Research Program (Treatment Research and Neuroscience Evaluation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders). She is the author of the public-oriented book, The Autism Revolution: Whole Body Strategies for Making Life All It Can Be.
Dr. Herbert earned her medical degree at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Prior to her medical training she obtained a doctoral degree at the University of California, Santa Cruz, studying evolution and development of learning processes in biology and culture in the History of Consciousness program, and then did postdoctoral work in the philosophy and history of science. She trained in pediatrics at Cornell University Medical Center and in neurology and child neurology at the Massachusetts General Hospital, where she has remained. She received the first Cure Autism Now Innovator Award and spent five years on the Scientific Advisory Committee of Autism Speaks. Her background in pediatric neurology, evolutionary biology and history of science has oriented her toward systems biology, brain connectivity and dynamism, and brain-body-planet interrelationships.
Her main research interests are in addressing autism and various other chronic brain conditions as “dynamic encephalopathies” (that can change) rather than as “static encephalopathies” (that are fixed for life) and in how environmental vulnerability affects brain and body health and function in an ongoing fashion, and not just before birth. Therefore she takes four approaches.
- Taking a whole body systems approach to how autism emerges — or not — in infants at high risk for autism (because of having an older sibling on the spectrum);
- Developing a multi-modal brain imaging and biomarker approach to studying the interface between metabolic/immune disturbances and altered brain signaling which could not only (for many at least) be the “ground zero” of autism, but also be central to the many types of brain health problems (neuropsychiatric, neurodevelopmental, neurodegenerative and traumatic) that are so widespread today, and
- Applying these approaches to the systems biology of improvement and recovery in autism and chronic brain health problems, as well as in other situations where complex systems are multiply challenged (in particular through the Documenting Hope film and research project), and
- Developing data-capture systems for tracking this recovery process in detail in real time.
She has recently trained in the Anat Baniel Method due to the great sophistication it offers in opening options for children with special needs (and everyone elseacross the entire lifespan and levels of ability) and for its insight into the fundamental importance of movement for transforming and upgrading brain function; she is building toward incorporating this dimension into her research and writing.
Dr. Herbert is committed to expanding how we think about autism, the brain, medicine and chronic illness, biology and the planetary crisis we are in, through both scientific research and public-oriented writing, speaking, communication and informatics. Her independent work is now organized through a suite of three Higher Synthesis projects: Health, Foundation and Works, as well as in the Body-Brain Resilience Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.. She is also chair of the Medical Advisory Board of the Documenting Hope project, which will prospectively document improvement and recovery in several significant chronic childhood illnesses through film, rigorous scientifically grounded testing, cloud-based secure information capture, and development of an education campaign to open these options to many more people.