2015 Grantees

Postdoctoral Fellowships

William Brandler, PhD | University of California at San Diego

Mentor: Jonathan Sebat, PhD 

Uncovering the spectrum of de novo mutation in autism through whole genome sequencing

To date, genetic research has focused on the area of the DNA that codes for proteins. This project will expand the analysis further to identify potentially new areas on the genome that contribute to ASD risk.

Natasha Marrus, MD, PhD | Washington University School of Medicine

Mentor: John Constantino, MD

Quantifying offspring ASD risk for unaffected sisters of males with ASD

As people with autism grow up, so do their siblings. This study will help us understand the risk of autism in the offspring of females who have a brother with ASD. It will help researchers understand the multiple risk factors associated with ASD, and enable them to make inferences regarding protective factors.

Daniel Nedelcu, PhD | Massachusetts General Hospital

Mentor: Joshua Kaplan, PhD:

Calcium channels as a core mechanism in the neurobiology of ASD

Calcium channel dysfunction underlies a number of disorders including ASD. By better describing the function of this part of the brain cell, researchers can improve upon treatments and understand more about risk factors for ASD.

Shuo Wang, PhD | California Institute of Technology

Mentor: Ralph Adolphs, PhD

Investigating autism with direct intracranial recordings

Most studies can only indirectly assess the function of the brain in people with autism. This project is an unprecedented opportunity to understand the function of individual brain cells in people with autism and epilepsy while they are alive, to better tailor specific treatments.

Predoctoral Fellowships

Marissa Co | UT Southwestern Medical School

Mentor: Genevieve Konopka, PhD

Genetics behind brain connectivity in ASD

Many of the genes known to be involved in autism regulate the connectivity between different brain regions. This study will focus on the molecular mechanism by which this regulation occurs, and will investigate whether that mechanism could be a target of intervention for ASD.

Jason Keil | University of Michigan

Mentor: Kenneth Kwan, PhD

Brain somatic mosaicism at ASD-associated loci

In some rare cases, genetic mutations called copy number variations may be present in brain cells but not other cells, therefore making discovery of this mutation undetectable by existing methods. This project will study this phenomenon, called ‘mosaicism’, in an animal model, potentially improving genetic testing of ASD and increasing understanding of genetic risk factors.

Nathan Kopp | Washington University School of Medicine

Mentor: Joseph Doughtery, PhD

A unified molecular mechanism explaining social behavior and oxytocin levels in ASD

Oxytocin has been shown (in preliminary studies) to improve some symptoms of autism, but little is known about how oxytocin levels are altered in individuals with ASD. This study will examine the mechanism by which oxytocin is regulated in a model of autism with the goal of improving therapies for ASD.

Rachel Zamzow | University of Missouri

Mentor: David Beversdorf, MD

Combined effects of early behavioral intervention and propranolol on ASD

Anxiety is a serious and debilitating comorbid symptom in ASD. This study will investigate whether simultaneous treatment with anti-anxiety medication propranolol can improve the effectiveness of behavioral interventions for autism.

Accelerator Awards

Rachel Greene | University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Mentors: Garret Stuber, PhD and Gabriel Dichter, PhD

The effects of oxytocin on functional neural connectivity in autism

Studies in 2015 showed that intranasal oxytocin may be helpful in treating some symptoms of ASD. Ms. Greene will be using data from an oxytocin clinical trial to understand how different regions of the brain regulate the rewarding aspects of social cues in people with autism and to determine if oxytocin affects these brain regions. If successful, this project will reveal the potential mechanisms of action of a novel ASD therapeutic agent and provide a new neural target by which to evaluate future promising ASD treatments.

Maya Mosner | University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Mentors: Edward Brodkin, MD and Gabriel Dichter, PhD

Using experience sampling to evaluate the effects of social skills treatment

Current research study environments may not reflect functioning in real life situations. This project will pilot a new method of data collection, called “experience sampling,” which will allow researchers to improve studies that investigate interventions where context and setting are important.

Undergraduate Summer Research Awards

Megan Chin | Stanford University

Mentor:  Theo Palmer, PhD

Researchers are starting to study the combined effects of genetic mutations plus environmental factors during pregnancy.  In this project, Megan will examine the role of maternal immune infection, a known risk factor for autism, in animals who have a mutation in a known autism risk gene called GABAR.  This will help scientists understand the mechanism by which both genetic and environmental factors work together to increase risk for ASD, potentially leading to preventative strategies.

Jordan Grapel | Yale University

Mentor:  Fred Volkmar, PhD

Jordan will be participating in a follow-up study of adults with autism, which includes an analysis of depression and bullying.  His project will also be studying how the new category of autism related diagnosis called “social-communication disorder” overlaps with what was previously known as Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). This project will also illuminate the potential impact of changes to the DSM5 made last year and document psychiatric and social challenges of individuals with ASD.

Timothy Kim | Yale University

Mentor:  James McPartland, PhD

Researchers are now using real-time EEG imaging to study factors affecting brain development during infancy and early childhood. Timothy will examine the resting EEG of infants with an older sibling with autism in the hopes of developing a new diagnostic biomarker for ASD.

Dylan Ritter | Texas A&M University

Mentor:  Scott Dindot, PhD

Individuals with mutations on chromosome 15 show high rates of autism symptoms. Dylan will be studying brain expression of a gene called UBE3A which is located on chromosome 15 – providing information on a potential new therapeutic target.

Zachary Williams | University of California, Santa Barbara

Mentor: Ty Vernon, PhD

Real-time FMRI brain imaging is helping us understand how therapy brings about real changes in the brain and has allowed researchers to begin to predict how people will respond to specific therapies.   Zachary will examine how brains in children with autism are activated, or not activated, in real time, during different tasks so that future autism interventions can be specifically tailored and personalized based on an individual’s personal brain function.