On October 25, Autism Speaks welcomed its fourth class of Dennis Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellows with a luncheon in New York City. The 2012 fellows were joined by the 2011 class of continuing fellows. Autism Speaks President Liz Feld and Vasili Tsamis of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation congratulated the fellows on their selection and research accomplishments. Lady Marion Weatherstone conveyed her encouragement via letter.
Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geri Dawson, Ph.D., added her encouragement and appreciation for the opportunity to launch so many highly promising young scientists on careers in autism research. She noted some of the important contributions of past Weatherstone fellows. Among her examples was Elaine Hsiao, now at Harvard University with a National Institutes of Health grant to study the immune system's role in autism.
Jonah Zimiles, whose son is on the autism spectrum, talked to the fellows about the hope their research gives families. Zimiles and his wife, Ellen, own Words Bookstore in Maplewood, N.J. The store provides vocational training for young adults with autism.
Autism Speaks established the Weatherstone fellowships with a generous gift from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. This competitive program encourages highly promising young scientists to make autism research their career. Fellows pursue research under the mentorship of leading scientists.
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation is one of the world’s leading philanthropic organizations. The fellowship program is named in memory of its first chairman, Sir Dennis Weatherstone. A distinguished financier, Sir Weatherstone and his wife shared a deep, personal commitment to supporting autism research. Lady Weatherstone continues to actively support the career development of Autism Speaks Weatherstone fellows.
At the luncheon, the 2012 fellows described their projects and personal motivations to pursue autism research.
* John Danial (University of California, Los Angeles) will develop behavioral interventions to help reduce anxiety in individuals with autism and intellectual disability.
* Myka Estes (University of California, Davis) will study how immune system abnormalities affect early brain development in children with autism.
* Michael Grubb (New York University) will use functional MRI to study impaired visual attention in individuals with autism.
* Kevin McEvoy (University of California, Los Angeles) will explore biomarkers of brain activity that can help researchers and clinicians better understand and treat autism-related language impairment.
* Christopher Muller (Vanderbilt University) will study elevated serotonin levels and their relationship to sensory problems in autism.
* Aarti Nair (University of California, San Diego) will study brain dysfunction and brain connectivity in individuals with autism.
* Katherine Stavropoulos (University of California, San Diego) will study brain responses to social signals.
* Tychele Turner (Johns Hopkins University) will use a molecular approach to explore the possible role of the X chromosome in reducing autism risk in girls and women.
In closing the meeting, Dr. Dawson read a letter to the Weatherstone fellows from Cheryl Weatherstone-Vance, daughter of Sir and Lady Weatherstone and mother of a child with autism.
To read more about Autism Speaks Weatherstone fellows, please see these feature profiles, videos and blogs: