Autism Speaks is pleased to announce its ninth class of Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellows. Selected from a highly competitive pool of applicants, this year’s eight investigators will pursue two-year, autism research projects under the mentorship of leading scientists in the field.
Autism Speaks established the Dennis Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellowship Program in 2008 with a generous grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. The program honors the late financier Sir Dennis Weatherstone and his commitment to the education of early career scientists pursuing autism research. Lady Weatherstone and daughter Cheryl Weatherstone-Vance continue to actively support this fellowship program on a personal level.
The 2017 class brings the number of Autism Speaks Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellows to 71 – making it the largest and arguably most consequential fellowship program in the field of autism research.
A panel of scientists, medical specialists and community advocates reviewed a highly qualified field of applicants to select this year’s fellows, who were approved by the Autism Speaks Board of Directors. Their scientific projects include a broad range of basic and applied research studies – all sharing the goal of improving the lives of children and adults on the autism spectrum.
“By funding the development of these early career scientists, we are fostering the innovative ideas and powerful collaborations needed to truly enhance the lives of people with autism,” says Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Thomas Frazier. “The Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellowships are key to broadening and deepening research focused on understanding autism and the needs of those affected by it.”
This year’s class of Autism Speaks Weatherstone Fellows are:
Maya Reiter Under the mentorship of Ralph-Axel Müller, at San Diego State University, Ms. Reiter will use noninvasive brain imaging techniques to assess the risk for challenges in mental health and daily living among adolescents affected by autism. Her goal is to guide the development of more-effective programs for supporting a successful transition to adulthood. Read more about her research project here.
Evan Geller Under the mentorship of James Noonan, at Yale University, Mr. Geller will use high-throughput genome editing to advance understanding of the role that non-coding DNA variations play in autism risk. This knowledge is crucial to maximizing the insights gained through whole genome research on autism’s varied causes and personalized treatments. Read more about his research project here.
Rachael Muscatello Under the mentorship of Blythe Corbett, at Vanderbilt University, Ms. Muscatello will investigate the role that increased sympathetic and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal activity play in driving high rates of anxiety and other psychiatric issues among people who have autism. Her research has the potential to improve diagnosis and treatment of these conditions among both children and adults on the autism spectrum. Read more about her research project here.
Xuan Tran Under the mentorship of Shafali Jeste, at the University of California-Los Angeles, Ms. Tran will use noninvasive electroencephalography (EEG) to identify early differences in brain connectivity in infants at high familial risk for autism. Her study will also assess whether these differences can predict language development and autism symptom severity. This work aims to improve early identification and personalized interventions that can support and improve each child’s development. Read more about her research project here.
Murat Kilinc Under the mentorship of Gavin Rumbaugh, at The Scripps Research Institute-Florida, Mr. Kilinc will seek biological targets for autism treatments by determining how different isoforms of the protein Syngap1 regulate dendritic development and synapse physiology in neurons (brain nerve cells). This research has the potential to advance our understanding of autism and intellectual disability at the molecular and brain systems level. Read more about his research project here.
Jessica Greenlee Under the mentorship of Marcia Winter, at Virginia Commonwealth University, Ms. Greenlee will assess how social skills, family cohesion, peer interactions and related factors combine to influence the mental well-being of adolescents affected by autism. Her findings promise to advance understanding and treatment of anxiety, depression and other mental health problems that commonly occur in this vulnerable group. Read more about her research project here.
Elyza Kelly Under the mentorship of Peter Tsai at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Ms. Kelly will study the brain circuits underlying cerebellar regulation in autism to assess the potential therapeutic benefits of neural circuit modulation. She will pursue this research using neuronal recording and optogenetics in mice bred to exhibit autism-like behaviors. Read more about her research project here.
Roxana Mesias Under the mentorship of George Huntley, at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Ms. Mesias will determine the role that mutations in the CDH8 gene can play in the development of autism, with the aim of guiding future treatments. She will do so by tracking brain-network development in a genetic mouse model of CDH8 autism using a combination of axonal tracing, immunocytochemistry and cleared-brain techniques. Read more about her research project here.