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Autism Speaks Announces Three New Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellowships

Predoctoral fellowships launch careers in autism research; promising young scientists paired with field’s leading investigators
October 29, 2013

Autism Speaks is pleased to announce the awarding of three additional 2013 Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellowships. These fellows join six others whose projects were announced in March. Recipients pursue two-year projects under the mentorship of leading investigators in the field.

Autism Speaks established the Dennis Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellowship Program in 2008 with a generous grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. It honors the late JP Morgan Chairman Dennis Weatherstone and his family’s enduring commitment to the education of young scientists beginning careers in autism research. Lady Marion Weatherstone will welcome this year’s class of fellows – along with last year’s class – at a luncheon in New York City, on November 4.

“These awards are investments in the future of autism research," says Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Rob Ring. “Our Weatherstone fellowship program provides critical resources for building the early careers of autism researchers as they work on projects that ensure the development of more effective treatments.” 

The three new fellowships include:

Frank Fishburn (Georgetown University) will evaluate near-infrared spectroscopy as a less-restrictive method for monitoring brain activity in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Performing brain scans with traditional imaging techniques can be stressful for children with autism, as many have difficulty holding still or fear enclosed spaces. With the new tool, Mr. Fishburn will study how different areas of the brain respond while children perform mental tasks. The project will advance our understanding of how disrupted communication between brain regions may cause autism symptoms.

Natasha Ludwig (Georgia State University) will examine the effectiveness of nonverbal measures of social understanding as a way to reliably identify ASD in toddlers. In doing so, she seeks to help develop a more practical and accurate screening method for toddlers who show early signs of autism and/or have an older sibling on the spectrum. Such streamlined methods are critically needed as early screening for ASD becomes more common.


Bo Park (Drexel University) will investigate prenatal influences that may help explain autism’s markedly higher prevalence in boys. Her research will focus on 175 pregnant mothers who already have a child on the autism spectrum. During their pregnancies, she will analyze their urine for environmental chemicals suspected of raising levels of male hormone. After delivery, she will measure hormone levels in cord blood and baby's first stool. She will examine associations between these measures and the children’s scores on behavioral screening tests at 12 months of age.

For full descriptions of all nine 2013 Weatherstone Fellowship projects, click here. You can explore all the research Autism Speaks is funding using this website’s Grants Search.


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