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Calls to Action

Autism Speaks Appoints Program Director for its Autism Tissue Program

November 06, 2008

Daniel Lightfoot, Ph.D., joined Autism Speaks this month to manage the activities of the Autism Tissue Program (ATP) – a parent-led brain tissue donation program dedicated to autism research. Dr. Lightfoot received his doctoral

education from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden – the home of the Nobel Prize, has held a postdoctoral appointment at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), and has interacted directly with patients in the clinical field at Scripps Hospital. Prior to this, Daniel has worked for years at a biotechnology company conducting research for a gene-to-drug approach to pharmacogenetics as well as a researcher in genetics at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research. In addition to his rich experience, Daniel's sincere interest in the support of donor families makes this appointment very important for the ATP.

As way of background for this important program, the ATP supports specialized neuropathology research by providing approved scientists access to the most rare and necessary of resources, post mortem human brain tissue. Neuropathology research is geared to systematically explore brain organization and cell groups for any changes characteristic of known diseases or disorders. To date, subtle but unique changes in brains of deceased autistic children and adults have been identified that affect cell growth and development as well as cell-cell connectivity. Genetic analysis of brain cells has allowed Autism Speaks to identify chromosomal and single gene changes consistent with those found in DNA from the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange's (AGRE) large-scale family genetic studies.

Taken together, the 90+ projects supported by the ATP donor brain tissue – from children as young as age 2 to adults over 60 – point to early brain development changes with an often global effect on cognitive, sensory, motor and immune functions. Identification of how these changes come about is urgent and understanding these processes is evermore dependent on brain donation. Everyone is encouraged to register to be a future brain tissue donor; those individuals who are not affected are very important too.

More information can be found at www.autismtissueprogram.org. Additionally, for information or immediate attention to initiate a brain donation, call our toll free, 24-hour number at (877) 333-0999.

Dr. Lightfoot and the ATP team are committed to making this precious resource available. Autism Speaks is happy to welcome Daniel aboard and, as always, wishes to recognize with deep appreciation, the gifts of hope provided by each and every ATP brain donor family.