Kirsten Donald is an associate professor in pediatric neurology with an interest in developmental disabilities as they manifest in resource-limited settings, such as South Africa. Donald has a permanent faculty appointment in the Division of Developmental Pediatrics (Department of Pediatrics and Child Health) at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and University of Cape Town. She heads a clinical service that sees both common and rare complex multisystemic disorders (autism, genetic syndromes with associated developmental problems and cerebral palsy, among others). The service operates in the region of 60 clinics a month, with more than 4,000 clinic visits a year.
Donald’s specific research interests include the effects of maternal mental health on the development of their infants, as well as preventable causes of neurodisability, such as alcohol and methamphetamine exposure, organophosphate poisoning and the neurological and neurocognitive complications of HIV. Her ongoing research has focused on using multiple imaging methods, including structural, functional and diffusion imaging, and proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy to facilitate a deeper understanding of the pathophysiological mechanisms and genetic risk factors associated with depression, as well as substance exposure and other pediatric exposures prevalent in the South African setting.
Donald has received funding from the National Institutes of Health to investigate the longitudinal brain imaging outcomes of infants exposed to alcohol during the prenatal period, as well as a Royal Society Newton Advanced Fellowship to investigate the developmental and socioemotional outcomes of infants exposed to violence in early life.