Dr. Peter was appointed Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the University of Washington in 2012. With funding from the NIH, she is currently directing a three-year study of the molecular genetics of speech sound disorder (SSD).
Her recent work has introduced a paradigm shift in the investigation of the genetic causes of SSD. Whereas SSD was previously modeled as a complex disorder where many different genes must be disrupted in the same child to confer susceptibility for SSD, Dr. Peter ‘s research shows that a motor-based SSD subtype can be traced in children as well as adults with a history of speech problems and that this subtype is likely the result of only very few genes at work. She recently described the first genetic linkage study in a family with familial SSD, which simultaneously was the first genetic linkage study of SSD that considered the entire genome instead of selected candidate regions.
Together with Le Button, a 2011/12 honors student, she investigated the hypothesis that childhood apraxia of speech, traditionally defined as a motor programming disorder, is characterized by a global deficit in sequential processing that transcends the speech and motor speech domain. Results based on phenotypic data from six families are consistent with expanded disorder description with manifestations of the deficit in multiple domains including reading and spelling (Peter et al., 2013; Button et al., 2013). These findings may have implications for the study of dyslexia.
A second area of research interest and activity actually is dyslexia. Dr. Peter hypothesizes that reading disorders result from biologically based interferences with information transfer in the brain and that these interferences can be documented across many modalities including EEG, ABR, MRI, fMRI, DTI, and behavioral measures. She and her collaborators are currently collecting pilot data toward an extensive, multidisciplinary study of dyslexia where convergent evidence from the diverse measures will be evaluated for its genetic etiology. Findings from the Peter lab's study of childhood apraxia of speech are providing motivation to investigate sequential processing in dyslexia. Results from behavioral testing are consistent with the hypothesis that a deficit in rapid sequential processing underlies both childhood apraxia of speech and dyslexia. This would explain why many children with childhood apraxia of speech have difficulty learning to read and spell and, conversely, why individuals with dyslexia have difficulty with complex speech tasks.
The Peter lab recently identified a candidate gene for childhood apraxia of speech (manuscript accepted for publication, expected publication date: May 2014). As more genetic variants for speech sound disorder are discovered, the potential to identify infants at genetic risk increases. Whether or not this will lead to a new effort to design and provide preventative services to very young children remains to be seen. Dr. Peter and two colleagues are planning a trial intervention in infants at genetic risk for speech disorders due to known genetic variants causing a medical disorder. If this experiment results in improved outcomes in the speech of children who carry the disease variant, we will have evidence towards trying very early intervention in other cases.
Dr. Peter earned a Master of Science degree in Speech-Language Pathology at the University of Washington, where she also completed her Ph.D. degree in Speech and Hearing Sciences under the direction of Carol Stoel-Gammon, Ph.D. Her clinical expertise is in childhood speech and language disorders as well as in dyslexia. Dr. Peter recently completed three years of postdoctoral training under the mentorship of Wendy Raskind, M.D., Ph.D., in the Division of Medical Genetics at the University of Washington. Dr. Peter is the only clinical linguist ever to complete the Graduate Certificate in Statistical Genetics, sponsored by the Department of Biostatistics at the University of Washington.