ASF Awards Five New Undergraduate Research Grants
NEW YORK — March 31, 2022 — The Autism Science Foundation (ASF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting families facing autism and to funding innovative autism research, today announced the recipients of its annual undergraduate summer research fellowships. Grants have been awarded to David Barrett of Vanderbilt University, Jessie Greatorex of Michigan State University, Grace Hajjar of University of California at Los Angeles, Chavely Gonzalez Ramirez of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Meagan Tsou of Boston Children’s Hospital. This year’s diverse group of grantees will investigate critical research topics, including understanding and narrowing the diagnosis and service gaps across different races, ethnicities and socioeconomic status levels.
“We are continually amazed by the creative, forward-thinking proposals we receive from budding autism scientists, and this year’s grantees are no exception,” said Alison Singer, Co-Founder and President of ASF. “We expect that these research studies will positively impact the lives of many autism families, particularly those from marginalized communities facing a disproportionate lack of resources. We are incredibly grateful for the unwavering generosity of our donors, without whom none of this exceptional work would be possible.”
“Providing undergraduate scientists with the funding to explore the topics they are passionate about is critical to retaining exceptional talent and to fostering a lifelong passion for autism science,” said ASF Chief Science Officer Dr. Alycia Halladay. “We are so proud to fund this dynamic and diverse group of grantees, who are on track to make a true difference in the lives of people with autism.”
This is the ninth consecutive year ASF has offered grants to promising young researchers. 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.”
The following projects have been awarded funding:
Mentor: Tiffany Woynaroski, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
Advisor: Zachary Williams
Understanding the mechanisms of sensitivity to sound in ASD
Hypersensitivity to auditory stimuli, including even regular sounds and voices, is seen in a high percentage of people with autism. This project will expand on existing research at Vanderbilt looking at brain activity in autistic and non-autistic individuals with different levels of sound tolerance to understand the factors that play a role in the brain’s response to noise.
Mentor: Brooke Ingersoll, Ph.D., BCBA-D
Michigan State University
Strengthening parent training in community mental health clinics
Many autism referrals in low-resource settings originate from community mental health care clinics. Unfortunately, many mental health care providers are not trained in autism interventions and do not have the appropriate resources to provide support to parents or provide parent training for early developmental interventions. This fellow will work directly with ABA agencies that contract with Medicaid to determine how clinicians can better support parents participating in parent- mediated interventions.
Mentor: Catherine Lord, Ph.D.
University of California at Los Angeles
Determining the effectiveness of the BOSCC in females and people of color
Given the historically higher prevalence of white males in autism research studies, many autism diagnostic and outcome instruments have not been specifically validated in people of color or in females. This study will recruit women and individuals from racially and ethnically diverse communities to understand how a measure of treatment outcome, called the BOSCC (Brief Observation of Social Communication Change), can be used more effectively in these communities.
Chavely Gonzalez Ramirez
Mentor: Ben Philpot, Ph.D.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Understanding the expression of ASD Gene UBE3A in the Rhesus Macaque
The UBE3A gene is thought to be responsible for Dup15q Syndrome, one of the genetically derived autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Despite its clinical importance, we know very little about UBE3A distribution in the human brain. Most researchers assume it closely mirrors that of the rodent brain. This lack of knowledge could be catastrophic if the distribution of UBE3A in the human brain is improperly inferred from rodent studies and leads to inappropriate delivery and treatment strategies for autism.To assure the safe targeting of therapeutic approaches to normalizing UBE3A levels in individuals with Dup15q Syndrome, this fellow will study UBE3A developmental expression in the closest proxy we can get to the human brain – the brain of the rhesus monkey.
Mentor: Susan Faja, Ph.D.
Boston Children’s Hospital
Examining the impact of early intervention on executive functioning
Executive functioning is the ability to manage daily life, follow directions and handle emotions — and has been reported to be significantly impaired in individuals with ASD. This project will take advantage of an existing longitudinal study to examine the specific role and active ingredients of early intervention from ages 2-4 on executive functioning. The fellow will also examine whether demographic factors, including race and ethnicity, play a role in the effectiveness of the intervention.
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.
Kathy Ehrich Dowd
Autism Science Foundation