Dr. Martha Herbert is an Assistant Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, a Pediatric Neurologist 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).
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 is now 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 interrelationships.
Her main research interests are in addressing autism as a “dynamic encephalopathy” (something that can change) rather than a “static encephalopathy” (something that is fixed for life) and in how environmental vulnerability affects brain and body health and function. Therefore she takes three approaches. 1) 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); 2) developing a multi-modal brain imaging and biomarker approach to studying the interface between metabolic/immune disturbances and altered brain signaling which could (for many at least) be the “ground zero” of autism, and 3) applying these approaches to the systems biology of improvement and recovery in autism and in other situations where complex systems are multiply challenged.