Autism Speaks™ Announces New Staff Structure for its Science Program

Organization Restructures Science Program, Announces New Staff Appointments

(NEW YORK, NY – April 16, 2007) – Autism Speaks, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing awareness of autism and raising money to fund autism research, today announced the re-structuring of its science department. Sophia Colamarino, Ph.D. is named Vice President of Research; Andy Shih, Ph.D. is named Vice President of Scientific Affairs; Clara Lajonchere, Ph.D. is named Vice President of Clinical Programs, and Alycia Halladay, Ph.D. is named Associate Director of Research for Environmental Sciences.

Organizationally the Autism Speaks science program will be divided into 4 primary workgroups. The Etiology Workgroup will focus on the areas of genetics, environmental sciences and epidemiology to gain a better understanding of the causes and susceptibilities involved with autism. The Biology Workgroup will focus on the areas of neuroscience, physiology and molecular biology to gain a better understanding of the pathology and underlying biological mechanisms that generate autism. The Diagnosis Workgroup will focus in the areas of behavioral and biological methods that will lead to better diagnosis and characterization of the autism phenotypes. The Treatment Workgroup will focus on the areas of behavioral, biomedical and technological methods of treatment and intervention services. Autism Speaks will offer a variety of resources and funding mechanisms to support these scientific initiatives and research projects. Funding mechanisms will include Investigator Initiated Grants, High-Risk/High-Impact Awards, and proactive initiatives. In addition, Autism Speaks provides a wealth of research resources, tools, and databanks that help accelerate research within the autism field including AGRE, ATP, ATN, CTN and ISAAC.

As Vice President of Research, Sophia Colamarino's responsibilities will include management and oversight of the Autism Speaks' Biology Workgroup and High Risk/High Impact program to be announced later this year.

After sixteen years of laboratory research experience, Sophia joined Cure Autism Now in November 2004 as Science Director to oversee the science program in association with the CAN Scientific Review Council. Sophia graduated with dual degrees in Biological Sciences and Psychology from Stanford University. She received her Ph.D. in Neurosciences from University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), where she studied brain development with distinguished neuroscientist Marc Tessier-Lavigne,Ph.D.

After receiving her Ph.D., Sophia conducted research on the genetic disorder Kallmann Syndrome at the Telethon Institute for Genetics and Medicine in Milan, Italy, led by human geneticist Andrea Ballabio, M.D. She then returned to the US to work at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, CA, studying adult neural stem cells and brain regeneration in the laboratory of well-known stem cell pioneer Fred H. Gage, Ph.D. Sophia's extensive research career has included publications in such prestigious journals as Cell, Nature and Nature Medicine.

During her tenure at CAN, Sophia oversaw a large growth in the science program and developed several important initiatives including the Neuropathology Workgroup, a collaborative effort to understand the cellular and molecular basis of brain enlargement, the first Environmental Innovator Award, and research summit meetings on Immunology and Neuroimaging. She has also become well-known for her ability to communicate science to lay audiences.

As Vice President of Scientific Affairs, Andy Shih's responsibilities will include management and oversight of the Autism Speaks' Etiology Workgroup including efforts that involve genetics, environmental sciences and epidemiology as well as oversight of our European research efforts.

Andy joined the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) in 2002 as Director of Research and Programs. In 2004, Andy was promoted to Chief Science Officer of NAAR in recognition of his leadership in forming several important international collaborations including the High Risk Infant Siblings Research Consortium and Autism Language and Communication Consortium. More recently, Andy played important roles in forming public-private partnerships including the Autism Genome Project (AGP) and International Autism Epidemiology Research Network.

Prior to joining NAAR/Autism Speaks, Andy served as an industry consultant and was a member of the faculty at Yeshiva University and New York University Medical Center. He attended the University of California at Berkeley where he earned a B.S. in Biochemistry. He received his Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Biology from New York University Medical Center.

Andy's research background includes published studies in gene identification and characterization, virus-cell interaction, and cell-cycle regulation. He was instrumental in the cloning of a family of small GTPases involved in cell-cycle control and nuclear transport, and holds three patents on nucleic acids-based diagnostics and therapeutics.

As Vice President of Clinical Programs, Clara Lajonchere's responsibilities will include management and oversight of Autism Speaks' research resource programs including the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE), Autism Tissue Program (ATP), Autism Treatment Network (ATN) and Clinical Trials Network (CTN).

Clara joined Cure Autism Now in June 2003 as AGRE Program Director. Under Clara's leadership, AGRE has reached several landmarks including the acquisition of over 1600 family pedigrees and facilitating research in 15 countries. In September, 2006, Clara was promoted to Director of Clinical Research with responsibility for managing CAN's ATN and CTN programs. She has worked in the field of psychiatric genetics for the last 15 years and has a broad background in basic science and applied clinical research with both child and adult populations.

Over the last two years, Clara has worked closely with program staff at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop bioinformatics tools for the autism field and currently serves as a national advisor for NIH's National Database for Autism Research (NDAR). Clara also has dual appointments at USC's Viterbi School of Engineering where she is Research Assistant Professor and USC's Keck School of Medicine where she is Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

Clara attended Tufts University in Boston where she received a B.S. in Psychology with a minor in the History of Medicine. She received her Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from Washington University in St. Louis with concentrations in neuroscience and psychopathology. Clara was introduced to genetic research in 1989 when she worked on the Biological Program Project for Schizophrenia at McLean Hospital/Harvard University.

Alycia Halladay, Ph.D. is named Associate Director of Research for Environmental Sciences. Her responsibilities will include the development and management Autism Speaks' environmental sciences portfolio. She will continue to report to Andy Shih, VP of Scientific Affairs.

Alycia joined NAAR in 2005 as Associate Director of Research. Prior to joining NAAR/Autism Speaks, she worked as a research assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at Rutgers University, where she also completed a Ph.D. in psychology and a post-doctoral fellowship studying the effects of toxicant exposure on neurobehavioral development. As Associate Director of Research, she has worked to help manage and organize the research portfolio of Autism Speaks. This includes the grants program and several programmatic initiatives such as the Autism Tissue Program, the High Risk Baby Siblings Research Consortium, and the international epidemiology initiative.

 

ABOUT AUTISM
Autism is a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by extreme behavioral challenges. Autism Spectrum Disorders are diagnosed in one in 150 children in the United States, affecting four times as many boys as girls. The diagnosis of autism has increased tenfold in the last decade. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called autism a national public health crisis whose cause and cure remain unknown.

ABOUT AUTISM SPEAKS
Autism Speaks is dedicated to increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders, to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and cure for autism, and to advocating for the needs of affected families. It was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Bob Wright is Vice Chairman and Executive Officer, General Electric, and Chairman, NBC Universal. Autism Speaks has merged with both the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) and Cure Autism Now (CAN), bringing together the nation's three leading autism advocacy organizations. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.