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Autism Speaks, Simons Foundation Announce New Brain Tissue Network

Autism BrainNet will Acquire, Process, Store, and Distribute Tissue to Accelerate Autism Research

New York, N.Y. (May 2, 2013) – Autism Speaks and the Simons Foundation announced the establishment and funding of a new network of sites to collect brain tissue to advance autism research through brain donation at today’s International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR).

The network, Autism BrainNet, will build off over a decade of contributions to the tissue-based research community made by Autism Speaks Autism Tissue Program (ATP) and other brain banks. Autism BrainNet will establish, for the first time, a multi-site network that will acquire, process, store, and distribute brain tissue resources to accelerate understanding of the biological basis of autism.

“Brain donation is a difficult subject for many and takes courage to discuss, but experiments on human brain tissue are now the very best way forward in attempts to improve the quality of life of those on the autism spectrum,” says Gerald D. Fischbach, M.D., Scientific Director of the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI). “And recent research advances demand nothing less than an interactive network of regional nodes as the best way forward.”

The ATP, Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, the University of California MIND Institute, and the University of Texas at Southwestern Medical School will be the first four institutional partners of Autism BrainNet. David Amaral, Ph.D., of the MIND Institute, will serve as the network’s first director. The network will grow to include more national and international partners and will eventually assume the operations of the ATP as well.

“Autism Speaks’ ATP has been the largest program solely dedicated to increasing and enhancing the availability of brain tissue to as many qualified scientists as possible,” said Autism Speaks chief science officer, Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D. “We are excited to greatly broaden its reach in this new network and thank all the families who generously donated tissue over the past 12 years.”

Autism BrainNet represents the culmination of consensus building activities over the past years among key experts in the field of brain banking, both inside and outside the autism field. “It is enormously satisfying to see the collaborative efforts of the workgroup delivering on the promises of a model presented to the field for discussion at last year’s IMFAR,” said Robert Ring, Ph.D., Autism Speaks vice president of translational research. “With more than $7.5 million in funding over the next five years, this collaboration between the Simons Foundation, Autism Speaks, and the Nancy Lurie Marks Foundation will be game changing – with the potential to advance the field of autism brain research in ways previously not possible.” 

The Autism BrainNet portal will launch in the fall of 2013, allowing the autism community to access research results and learn about how brain research contributes to understanding and treating ASD.

About Autism
Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders – autism spectrum disorders – caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by communication difficulties, social and behavioral challenges, as well as repetitive behaviors. An estimated one in 88 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum – a 78 percent increase in six years that is only partly explained by improved diagnosis.

About Simons Foundation
Established in 1994, the Simons Foundation is a private foundation dedicated to advancing the frontiers of research in mathematics and the basic sciences. The Simons Foundation sponsors a range of programs that aim to promote a deeper understanding of our world.

The Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) seeks to improve the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders by funding innovative research of the highest quality and relevance. SFARI currently funds more than 165 investigators in the U.S. and abroad. In addition, SFARI aims to advance the autism research field as a whole by developing resources for scientists. Please visit for more information on all SFARI programs.

About Autism Speaks
Autism Speaks is the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization. It is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Mr. Wright is the former vice chairman of General Electric and chief executive officer of NBC and NBC Universal. Since its inception, Autism Speaks has committed more than $195 million to research and developing innovative resources for families. Each year Walk Now for Autism Speaks events are held in more than 100 cities across North America. On the global front, Autism Speaks has established partnerships and related activities in more than 40 countries on five continents to foster international research, services and awareness. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit