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Cure Autism Now Hosts White Matter Think Tank

October 14, 2007

Cure Autism Now took a major step forward in accelerating the pace of autism research by organizing a White Matter Think Tank this month in Malibu, CA. Sponsored by CAN and hosted by Dr. Martha Herbert, Dr. Pat Levitt, Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board, and Science Director Dr. Sophia Colamarino, the meeting brought together 25 researchers to spend a weekend brainstorming about the recent discovery of increased white matter in the brains of autistic children and develop a path for future research. The importance of this meeting did not go unnoticed; The New York Times published an article on February 8th marking the significance of this innovative, collaborative effort. The article also highlighted the work of many researchers who have been funded by CAN, including Dr. Herbert, Dr. Pardo-Villamizar, and Dr. Philip Teitelbaum.

The discovery of increased white matter in certain areas of the brain has provided one of the first windows into understanding the possible biological underpinnings of autistic behaviors. White matter is the part of the brain responsible for carrying information from one area to another. For her work in demonstrating that white matter is enlarged unevenly in autistic brains, scientist Martha Herbert received a CAN Innovator Award (View the article here). With the publication of her latest papers, it became clear that these important findings needed to be pursued as rapidly as possible.

Realizing the need to facilitate this process, CAN organized a forum to bring together the scientists who have been investigating autism with scientists who are specialists in white matter-related issues outside the field of autism. The researchers were charged with unraveling the potential causes and consequences of the white matter enlargement, and spent morning until evening in discussions, sharing ideas, and prioritizing the research which must be done next. The outcome of the meeting is a clear set of experiments which the research experts feel are required to understand the white matter enlargement and how it relates to other areas of autism research. CAN expects to issue specific Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to direct the research and provide funding to qualified researchers who wish to do these experiments.

By organizing this meeting CAN has succeeded in bringing scientists from other disciplines into the field of autism. Several of the participants, some of whom had never thought about autism research before, commented that they would be heading back to their labs invigorated with new ideas. In keeping with the collaborative spirit of CAN-sponsored research, the researchers in attendance will also be forming work groups to follow up on the ideas that were proposed during the think tank.

Through continued expansion and collaboration in research and a constant eye toward biomedical treatments and therapies, we are confident that the breakthrough we have all been waiting for, a cure, is within reach. CAN congratulates Dr. Martha Herbert and Dr. Pat Levitt for leading the White Matter Think Tank and gratefully acknowledges the esteemed researchers that participated. A list of the participants is included here:

White Matter in Autism Think Tank Attendees

Malibu, CA - February 4-5, 2005

Martha Herbert, M.D., Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Neurology
Harvard Medical School
Pediatric Neurologist
Massachusetts General Hospital

Pat Levitt, Ph.D.
Director, John F. Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development
Professor of Pharmacology
Vanderbilt University

Michael Aschner, Ph.D.
Department of Pediatrics
B-3307 Medical Center North
Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Helen Barbas, Ph.D.
Director, Neural Systems Laboratory
Department of Health Sciences
Boston University

Mark Bear, Ph.D.
Department of Brain and Cognitive Science
The Picower Center
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Matthew Belmonte, Ph.D.
University of Cambridge
Autism Research Centre

Mark Blaxill, MBA
Senior Vice President
The Boston Consulting Group

Judy Cameron, Ph.D.
Department of Behavioral Neuroscience
Oregon Health and Science University

Ruth Carper
Assistant Project Scientist
Department of Neuroscience
University of California, San Diego

Sophia Colamarino, Ph.D.
Science Director
Cure Autism Now

Therese Finazzo
Grants Officer
Cure Autism Now

Michael Friedlander, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair UAB Department of Neurobiology
Director, UAAB Civitan International Research Center

William Greenough, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry, and Cell and Structural Biology
Director, Center for Advanced Study
Beckman Institute
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Jeffrey Hutsler
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology
University of Michigan

Portia Iversen
Scientific Liaison
Cure Autism Now

Marcel Just, Ph.D.
D.O. Hebb Professor
Department of Psychology
Carnegie Mellon University

Marin Lutz
Collaborations Manager
Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE)

Mike Merzenich, Ph.D.
Department of Otolaryngology
Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience
University of California, San Francisco

Robert Miller, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Neurosciences
Case Western Reserve University
School of Medicine

Paul Patterson, Ph.D.
Professor of Biology
California Institute of Technology

Andrew Rzhetsky, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Biomedical Informatics
And Columbia Genome Center
Columbia University

David Tuch, Ph.D.
Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging
Massachusetts General Hospital

Andy Zimmerman, M.D.
Pediatric Neurologist
Neurobehavior Unit
Kennedy Krieger Institute

Thomas Zoeller, Ph.D.
Department of Biology
University of Massachusetts-Amherst
Morrill Science Center