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Christa Whelan Habela, M.D., Ph.D.

Photo of Dr. Christa Whelan Habela, M.D., Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Neurology

Expertise: Epilepsy

Research Interests: Epilepsy, Genetics, Synaptogenesis, Neuronal Development

Contact for Research Inquiries

John M. Freeman Pediatric Epilepsy Center
600 N. Wolfe Street
Meyer 2-147
Baltimore, MD 21287 map

Background

Dr. Habela completed a Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. She received her PhD in Neurobiology in 2008 and her MD in 2010. After medical school, she specialized in child neurology, and completed 2 years of pediatrics residency and 3 years of child neurology residency at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2015. She then completed another 2 years of training specifically focused on the diagnosis, characterization and medical and surgical management of patients with epilepsy during an Epilepsy Fellowship at Johns Hopkins.

Dr. Habela’s clinic specializes in pediatric neurology and epilepsy. Her clinical focus in on the care of patients with severe epilepsy with or without other neurodevelopmental disorders that have not been easily controlled with medications. She is also focused on the genetic causes of epilepsy and other neurodevelopmental disabilities with the hope that increasing our understanding of the genetic causes of epilepsy and neurodevelopmental disabilities will improve treatment. 

Dr. Habela’s basic science research is focused on the genetic mechanisms regulating appropriate proliferation, migration and integration of neurons and glial cells in both the prenatal and postnatal developing brain and how aberrations in these processes result in neurodevelopmental disabilities. Her hypothesis is that deregulation of pre and postnatal neurogenesis and synaptogenesis contributes to the behavioral phenotypes observed in many forms of intellectual disability, epilepsy and autism. Her research applies what we know from human genetic studies to basic science studies examining how specific genetic changes alter neurogenesis, synaptogenesis and overall excitation / inhibition balance in laboratory model systems. Her goal is to provide a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of these processes and, in turn, possibly identify specific targets for disease modifying treatments for epilepsy.

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Titles

  • Assistant Professor of Neurology

Departments / Divisions

Education

Degrees

  • MD, University of Alabama at Birmingham (2010)

Residencies

  • Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine / Pediatrics (2015)

Fellowships

  • Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine / Neurology (2017)

Board Certifications

  • American Board of Psychiatry & Neurology / Psychiatry (2015)

Research & Publications

Research Summary

Dr. Habela’s basic science research is focused on the genetic mechanisms regulating appropriate proliferation, migration and integration of neurons and glial cells in both the prenatal and postnatal developing brain and how aberrations in these processes result in neurodevelopmental disabilities. Her hypothesis is that deregulation of pre and postnatal neurogenesis and synaptogenesis contributes to the behavioral phenotypes observed in many forms of intellectual disability, epilepsy and autism. Her research applies what we know from human genetic studies to basic science studies examining how specific genetic changes alter neurogenesis, synaptogenesis and overall excitation / inhibition balance in laboratory model systems. Her goal is to provide a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of these processes and, in turn, possibly identify specific targets for disease modifying treatments for epilepsy.

Selected Publications

Ernest NJ, Habela CW, Sontheimer H. Cytoplasmic condensation is both necessary and sufficient to induce apoptotic cell death. J. Cell Sci. 2008 Feb 1; 121(Pt3):290-7. PMID: 18198188. PMC2561226.

Habela CW, Olsen ML, and Sontheimer H. ClC3 is a critical regulator of the cell cycle in normal and malignant glial cells. J. Neurosci., Sep 2008; 28: 9205 - 9217.PMID: 18784301. PMC2593939.

Habela CW, Ernest NJ, Swindall AF, Sontheimer H. Chloride accumulation drives volume dynamics underlying cell proliferation and migration. J. Neurophysiol. 2009 Feb; 101(2):750-7. Epub 2008 Nov 26. PMID: 19036868. PMC2657062.

Cuddapah VA, Habela CW, Watkins S, Moore LS, Barclay TT, Sontheimer H. Kinase activation of ClC-3 accelerates cytoplasmic condensation during mitotic cell rounding. Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2012 Feb; 302(3):C527-38. Epub 2011 Nov 2. PMID: 22049206. PMCID: PMC3287156.

Yoon KJ, Song G, Qian X, Pan J, Xu D, Rho HS, Kim NS, Habela C, Zheng L, Jacob F, Zhang F, Lee EM, Huang WK, Ringeling FR, Vissers C, Li C, Yuan L, Kang K, Kim S, Yeo J, Cheng Y, Liu S, Wen Z, Qin CF, Wu Q, Christian KM, Tang H, Jin P, Xu Z, Qian J, Zhu H, Song H, Ming GL. Zika-Virus-Encoded NS2A Disrupts Mammalian Cortical Neurogenesis by Degrading Adherens Junction Proteins. Cell Stem Cell. 2017 Aug 16.

Activities & Honors

Honors

  • R25 Research Education Award, 2014 - 2016
  • Neurobiology of Disease in Children, Young Investigator, 2015 - 2015
  • Child Neurology Career Development Award, 2017

Videos & Media

Lectures and Presentations

  • Genetics of Epilepsy: Furthering Our Understanding of Neural Development
    Invited Talk , Pediatric Neurology Grand Rounds , Johns Hopkins Hospital (06/22/2016)
    Department of Neurology
  • Chloride-mediated Volume Changes Are Required for Normal Glioma Cell Division
    Invited Talk , Cell Volume Control , Salzburg, Austria (09/01/2007)
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