Wed 6th April 2016

Neuroscience Graduate Student receives Autism Science Foundation Fellowship Award

Megha Subramanian, Neuroscience Graduate student, recieves 2016 Autism Pre-doctoral Fellowship.

Original Article

The Autism Science Foundation today announced the recipients of its annual pre- and post-doctoral fellowship programs and undergraduate summer research grants. Four post-doctoral and five pre-doctoral fellowship grants will be awarded to student and mentor teams conducting research in gene and environmental interactions, head size, sensory abnormalities, neurobiology, and sex differences in ASD. Six grants will be awarded to highly-accomplished undergraduate student-mentor teams conducting research in brain function, neurobiology, sleeping behaviors, and social communication in autism.

"The autism community has demanded more research to understand what is causing autism and to develop better treatments. ASF attracts outstanding applicants, representing a broad range of perspectives on autism science," said Autism Science Foundation President Alison Singer. "In addition to funding novel and innovative research that will impact the scientific landscape, these awards make important investments in young investigators starting their careers in autism research. We are proud to mark Autism Awareness Month by increasing our research funding in response to this national health crisis."

The Rett Syndrome Research Trust (RSRT) has co-funded the pre-doctoral fellowship awarded to Spencer Moore of University of California at San Diego. Moore's research will examine the role of a molecule in the brain called IL6 that is elevated following immune challenges associated with autism risk. Girls with Rett Syndrome have several similarities to girls with autism, including the feature of regression. This study will look at the role of IL6 in the brain in both an animal model of Rett and in cells from people with Rett; it will help to more fully characterize the contribution of astrocytes and the role of immune molecules in neurodevelopmental disorders.

"I am delighted that the Rett Syndrome Research Trust and the Autism Science Foundation are collaboratively supporting the work of Spencer Moore, a creative, young investigator," said Monica Coenraads, executive director of RSRT. "His work will be conducted in Alysson Muotri's UCSD laboratory, which has a longstanding interest in both Rett Syndrome and autism spectrum disorder. I look forward to the data generated from this research project and appreciate the opportunity to partner with ASF."

Since its founding in 2009, the Autism Science Foundation has funded more than $2.3 million in grants, including pre- and post-doctoral fellowships, medical school gap year research fellowships, three-year early career awards, treatment grants, undergraduate summer research grants, research enhancement mini-grants, and travel scholarships to enable stakeholders to attend the annual International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR).

Megha Subramanian, Johns Hopkins
Mentor: Mollie K. Meffert, MD, PhD
Study of a potentially novel biomarker for features of ASD
Many individual genetic variants contribute to ASD, but newer evidence emphasizes how these genes converge on a common set of pathways controlling the growth, development, shape and function of brain cells. In some people with autism, head size is enlarged starting very young, suggesting a type of autism that has specific genetic features. A biomarker that reflects fundamental differences in brain growth might be useful for early detection of ASD. This study will focus on small fragments of RNA called microRNA (miRNA) that control protein synthesis. Specifically, dysregulation of some miRNAs may lead to too much or too little protein in certain cells. The levels of these miRNAs can be measured in blood, which makes it a potential biomarker, and this project will reveal how specific miRNA pathways contribute to head growth in ASD.

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