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Personal Information

Prefix/Title

Dr.

First Name

Meng-Chuan

Last Name

Lai

Email Address

mengchuan.lai@utoronto.ca

Address 1

CAMH, Child, Youth and Family Services

Address 2

80 Workman Way, 5th Floor

Degrees

MD, PhD

Bio

Dr. Meng-Chuan Lai is staff psychiatrist, clinician scientist and O’Brien Scholar in the Child and Youth Mental Health Collaborative between the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, and assistant professor at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto. He is also honorary Director of Gender Research in Autism at the Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge, and adjunct attending psychiatrist and adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry and psychology at the National Taiwan University and Hospital. He received his MD from the National Taiwan University and completed his residency training in both adult and child/adolescent psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry, National Taiwan University Hospital. He holds a PhD in psychiatry and neuroscience from the University of Cambridge. Dr. Lai’s vision is to bridge and integrate multi-level biological-cognitive-psychological-social research and clinical services. His clinical interests are in the risk and resilience processes across the lifespan in individuals with atypical social, cognitive and affective development (such as the autism spectrum, ADHD, anxiety and mood disorders) and children and youth with medical illness, as well as how sex/gender modulates these processes. His current research investigates cognitive and neuro/biological bases of autism and associated neurodevelopmental conditions, and their emerging comorbidities (such as depression, anxiety and medical illness) across the lifespan. A particular focus is on females with autism and the complex relationships between autism and sexual differentiation, gender socialisation and sex/gender differences. Dr. Lai’s work also expands to social cognition, mind-brain-body interactions, psychiatric nosology (especially in clarifying the vast heterogeneity in psychiatric conditions) and cross-discipline integration.

PubMed URL

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/myncbi/browse/collection/49833400/?sort=date&direction=descending

Academic Appointment Information

Academic Rank

Assistant Professor

Research Site

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Primary Graduate Appointment

Institute of Medical Science (joint appointment with Department of Psychology)

Membership Type

Associate Member

Currently Recruiting Students

I am currently recruiting students

Project Description

My current research program aims to delineate how sex- and gender-related factors act as risk, protective, and moderating mechanisms for the (a) behavioural presentation, (b) identification and diagnosis, (c) neurobiology, and (d) etiologies of autism; with a potential extension to co-occurring neurodevelopmental and mental health conditions.

 

Sub-Program 1: Sex and Gender Moderation of the Presentation and Recognition of Autism —

Autism is perceived as a male-predominant condition with a sex/gender ratio of 4-5:1, resulting in male-biased identification and understanding. However, meta-analyses of epidemiological studies show that with less biased ascertainment, the ratio is around 3:1. This indicates that females with autism tend to be under-recognized or even misdiagnosed, missing timely supports to achieve optimal outcomes. Such under-recognition may be underpinned by (a) how females present their autistic behavioural characteristics differently from males, and (b) how gendered contexts and existing stereotypes of autism lead to difficulty in recognizing autistic characteristics in females. Ongoing and prospective projects will clarify factors underlying these two aspects using qualitative and mixed methods, cognitive experiments, and administrative data analysis. This sub-program has a translational outcome of developing new schedules and training materials for health care professionals that can optimize the assessment, support and care pathway for females with autism (compared with current practice).

 

Sub-Program 2: Sex and Gender Moderation of the Neurobiology and Etiologies of Autism —

Even considering the inflated male-bias of prevalence outlined above, there is still a 3:1 male-predominance, suggesting that in some way, females are “protected” from developing autism. The underlying neurobiology related to this “female-protection” is currently unknown but is critical for better understanding of the etiologies of autism and possibly for developing new treatments that can “harness” this protective effect. Ongoing and prospective projects aim to delineate mechanisms underlying this “female-protection” using human and animal neuroimaging methods, imaging-genomics, and endocrinological approaches.

Academic Department

Psychiatry

Collaborate

Collaborative Program Affiliation

I currently have a Collaborative Program Affilitation

Collaborative Program Affiliation Details

1. Collaborative Program in Neuroscience; 2. Collaborative Specialization in Women’s Health

Current Project

Current Project

I am currently recruiting students to work on two projects (starting 2018).

The first project focuses on examining how the autism phenotype and ‘broader autism phenotype’ are expressed differentially by one’s sex and gender. In relation to this, at the measurement level, it is also critical to examine whether the current instruments capturing atypical neurodevelopmental characteristics show comparable psychometric properties across sexes and genders. The student will work collaboratively with several consortiums and conduct analyses on existing and new data to address the research questions.

The second project focuses on examining the patterns of sex-moderation of the neurobiology of autism, in particular on the brain functional connectome using resting-state fMRI. The student will work collaboratively in consortiums and be involved in the analysis of existing data as well as potential new data collection.

Research Interests

Theme

Neuroscience / Brain Health

Platforms

Health Services / Policy / Education / Knowledge Translation, Imaging, Clinical Research

Keywords

Child and youth mental health, developmental psychopathology, autism, ADHD, sex, gender, social cognition, anxiety, depression, adolescence