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Autism Speaks welcomes 2015 Weatherstone predoctoral fellows

Helping highly promising doctoral students launch careers in autism research under the mentorship of leading clinicians and scientists
November 02, 2015

Today the leadership of Autism Speaks and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation welcomed the seventh class of Dennis Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellows during the program’s annual luncheon at the Princeton Club, in New York City.

The two-year fellowships enable highly promising doctoral students to pursue autism research projects under the mentorship of the field’s leading scientists. 

“Over the last seven years, thanks to the generosity and vision of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and the Weatherstone family, we have launched 59 talented young scientists into careers in autism research,” said Autism Speaks President Liz Feld. “Already, we’ve seen the return on our investment – from deeper understanding of what causes autism to more effective therapies and supports to improve quality of life. But the real payoff, we know, has yet to come, as this remarkable new generation takes us in directions we’ve not yet imagined.”

Autism Speaks established the highly competitive Weatherstone fellowship program in 2008 with a generous gift from the Niarchos Foundation. The program’s name honors the foundation’s 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 support the career development of Autism Speaks Weatherstone fellows. 

"We ask you to give your very best to find solutions, each in your own way," Niarchos Foundation Chief Operating Officer Vasili Tsamis told this year's fellows. "You are here to write history." 

Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Rob Ring joined in welcoming the young scientists, calling Autism Speaks' fellowships the "crown jewels" of its research program. "Through our research portfolio, we invest in so many areas of investigation, from genomic discovery to medical interventions and epidemiology. But our investment in your potential is the most inspiring and offers us the greatest return on our mission." 

Paul Wang, Autism Speaks’ senior vice president for medical research, introduced this year’s eight fellows saying, “This new class of Weatherstone fellows will be studying a wide range of topics, from genes that protect or predispose to autism, to behavioral treatments for toddlers diagnosed with autism. By supporting them in this work, we ensure a continued pipeline of highly skilled researchers who will continue to improve the diagnosis and treatment of autism for many years into the future.”

Each fellow presented an overview of his or her research project and personal motivation to work in the field of autism.

Read about all eight 2015 Weatherstone fellows and their research projects here.

Weatherstone alumna Tychele Turner presented the findings of her breakthrough research on the genetics of autism in girls and women.

Read about Dr. Turner's findings here.

Letter from the Taekwondo champion
In what has become an annual tradition, Lady Weatherstone closed the luncheon by reading a letter of encouragement from her daughter Cheryl Weatherstone Vance, whose son, Hunter, has autism. Ms. Weatherstone Vance is a black belt  world champion in American Taekwondo.

“My dad was right when he said there is nothing stronger than the heart of a champion,” Weatherstone Vance wrote. “You are my champions. So when the path becomes hard, please stay the course, get back up and fight another round.… With a grateful heart, I thank you for choosing autism as your field of research to help find that missing piece of the puzzle.”  

Read Weatherstone Vance’s full letter here.

Read about all 59 Weatherstone research projects to date