Autism Science Foundation Announces 2020 Grant Recipients for Undergraduate Summer Research

Published April 7, 2020

Funding Will Support the Work of Autism Researchers at the Start of Their Careers

NEW YORK, NY (April 8, 2020) – The Autism Science Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to catalyzing innovative autism research, today announced the recipients of its annual undergraduate summer research fellowships.  Four grants have been awarded to promising undergraduates who will investigate the relationship between autism and ADHD in young children, search for biomarkers of anxiety in adults with autism, search for new early signs of autism in infants, and examine access to medical care barriers in adults with profound autism. These projects allow undergraduate researchers to contribute to scientifically important projects while gaining skills that will allow them to flourish as future autism researchers.

“This is truly one of our most important funding mechanisms and is at the heart of our mission to fund promising, young scientists and help them launch a career in autism research” said Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation. “This group of grantees is doing important and innovative science that will expand our knowledge of the early signs of autism and co-occurring disorders like anxiety and ADHD,  and will help develop targeted new treatments that will improve the lives of people with autism.”

“We have worked closely with all of our undergraduate grantees to modify their projects so that they can be done using telehealth approaches if universities remain closed over the summer” said ASF Chief Science Officer Dr. Alycia Halladay. “All of these projects will yield valuable information for families.”

In 2018, Inside Philanthropy praised ASF’s focus on young scientists, writing that funding undergraduates “is not something we see very often. In fact, we almost never see it. A key to achieving (medical) breakthroughs is first to win the battle to engage and retain young investigators. That means getting to promising researchers early. ASF says it’s alone among funders in its view that support for undergrads is a worthwhile use of research dollars. As far as we know, that’s true.” 

(https://www.insidephilanthropy.com/home/2018/4/12/autism-research-foundation-undergraduate-research-funds

The following undergraduates have received summer fellowships:

Fellow:  Alana Eiland
Mentor:  James McPartland, PhD
Institution:  Yale University
Title:  Isolating and Understanding Biomarkers of Anxiety in Adults with ASD
Children, teens and adults with autism often are also diagnosed with anxiety. In this study, Ms. Eiland will look at brain activity in adults with ASD, anxiety, and in those with both diagnoses, to try to find biological signatures for each condition. The results of this research could better inform treatment options for anxiety in autistic adults.

Fellow:  Nat Finnegan
Mentor:  Meghan Miller, PhD
Institution:  University of California at Davis
Title:   Tracking the Development of ADHD in Toddlers Diagnosed with ASD

Children with ASD often also receive an ADHD diagnoses as they grow up. Focused on infants 1-3 years old, this study will try to determine when ADHD symptoms start to arise, and what those symptoms look like in children with ASD, in an effort to enable earlier diagnoses of comorbid ADHD in children with ASD.

Fellow:  Joshua Glauser
Mentors:  Charles Nelson, PhD and Carol Wilkinson, MD, PhD
Institution:  Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard University
Title:  Examining a new biological early marker for ASD in infants

While autism is typically not diagnosed until 24 months, biological features can often be noticed much earlier. For example, it has been suggested that as early as 3 months, infants who go on to be diagnosed with autism might look at their mother less often. This project will examine how early brain responses to seeing their mother vs. a stranger are related to the development of social behavior and gestures in kids who go on to be diagnosed with autism. This would support the earliest possible diagnosis of autism, as well development of language and social abilities.

Fellow:  Kyra Rosen
Mentor:  Shafali Jeste, MD
Institution:  University of California at Los Angeles
Title:  Breaking Barriers to Medical Care for Adults with Profound, Syndromic Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders

The goal of this research will be to identify and classify the major hurdles to positive lifestyle outcomes in adults with the most severe forms of autism and neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs). Utilizing an existing database, Ms. Rosen will evaluate reports of medical comorbidities and conditions in adults, will examine service utilization and access to care, and will interview caregivers via zoom to better understand barriers to care. These data will help improve access to care for individuals with profound autism.

About the Autism Science Foundation:
The Autism Science Foundation (ASF) is a 501(c)(3) public charity. Its mission is to support autism research by providing funding to scientists and organizations conducting autism research. ASF also provides information about autism to the general public and serves to increase awareness of autism spectrum disorders and the needs of individuals and families affected by autism. To learn more about the Autism Science Foundation or to make a donation, visit www.autismsciencefoundation.org. 

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