SFARI 2018 Explorer awardees announced

Retinal ganglion cell axon terminals (indicated by red and blue puncta) engulfment by astrocytes (green) during developmental pruning. Credit: Carol Mason Laboratory / Columbia University.

The Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) is pleased to announce that it expects to have funded 22 grants in response to the Explorer Awards request for applications (RFA) this year.

These grants will support exploratory experiments that aim to strengthen hypotheses and lead to the formulation of competitive applications for subsequent larger-scale funding by SFARI or other organizations. SFARI intends to provide approximately $1.7 million in funding as part of this award program.

Awardee Susanne Schmid, an associate professor at the University of Western Ontario who studies sensory processing, says: “Changes in sensory processing have been increasingly acknowledged as one of the core symptoms in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). With the help of this Explorer Award, we will establish standardized behavioral readouts of altered sensory processing that can be used in both individuals with ASD and animal models. We hope this research will improve translation and help identifying treatment options.”

SFARI has funded 139 Explorer Awards since the inception of this program in 2011. Last spring, SFARI decided to end the Explorer program in an effort to reboot its grants portfolio. The awards from this year will, therefore, be the last grants given as part of this funding mechanism. With no more Explorer applications being accepted, potentially high-risk/high-reward, “explorer-ish” proposals will be now considered through the Pilot Award RFA, which has also been updated. More information about the new RFA guidelines, including Pilot Awards, can be found here.

“The Explorer Award program has played an important role in SFARI’s grants portfolio, and we thank all the researchers who applied throughout the years,” says SFARI Director Louis Reichardt. “We hope the new funding scheme will give investigators greater support to pursue novel hypotheses on autism biology, and we look forward to receiving innovative proposals through the updated Pilot Awards RFA.”

A list of the 2018 Explorer Awards is shown below:

Nadav Ahituv, Ph.D. (University of California, San Francisco)
Development of CRISPR activation therapeutics to rescue SCN2A function

Pauline Chaste, M.D., Ph.D. (Institut National de la santé et de la recherche médicale)
Using genomic prediction to study the relationship between autism liability and phenotype

Bilal Haider, Ph.D. (Georgia Institute of Technology)
Impaired sensory perception and aberrant cortical circuit activity in autism model mice

Carol Mason, Ph.D. and Mimi Shirasu-Hiza, Ph.D. (Columbia University)
Synaptic refinement and glial phagocytosis in a mouse model of fragile X syndrome

Frank McCormick, Ph.D. (University of California, San Francisco)
Biochemical analysis of autism mutations in SYNGAP

Jacob Michaelson, Ph.D. (University of Iowa)
The neuroscience and genetic basis of twice exceptionality: a pilot study

Kathleen Millen, Ph.D. (Seattle Children’s Hospital)
Cell type molecular neuropathology of the cerebellum in autism

Michelle Monje, M.D., Ph.D. (Stanford University)
Myelin integrity and plasticity in autism spectrum disorders

Eric Morrow, M.D., Ph.D. (Brown University)
Analysis of UBE3A- and NHE6-mutant cells to determine social communication gene networks

Stefano Panzeri, Ph.D. (Fondazione Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia)
New mathematical approaches to dissect neuronal circuits dynamics from EEG in autism spectrum disorder

Sachin Patel, M.D., Ph.D. (Vanderbilt University Medical Center)
Insula-central amygdala circuits in social and sensory function

Mustafa Sahin, M.D., Ph.D. (Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School)
Investigating the mechanism of FMRP dysregulation with loss of TSC2

Rebecca Saxe, Ph.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Conserved neural mechanisms for social motivation in mice and humans

Oliver M. Schlüter, Ph.D. (University of Pittsburgh)
The role of silent synapses in the etiology of autism

Susanne Schmid, Ph.D. (University of Western Ontario)
Sensory processing in autism — a multilevel approach

Beat Schwaller, Ph.D. (Universität de Fribourg)
Parvalbumin down-regulation as a point of convergence in autism

Veerle Somers, Ph.D. (Hasselt University)
Maternal antibodies as early biomarkers for autism spectrum disorder

Neal Sondheimer, M.D., Ph.D. (Hospital for Sick Children, University of Toronto)
Transgenerational mitochondrial mutations in autism spectrum disorder

Dagmar Sternad, Ph.D. (Northeastern University)
Characterization of predictive abilities in individuals with autism spectrum disorder using web-based interception games

Jessica Tollkuhn, Ph.D. (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory)
Developmental origins of the female protective effect in autism

Ray W. Turner, Ph.D. (University of Calgary)
Restoring FMRP in a mouse model of fragile X syndrome

A. Jeremy Willsey, Ph.D. and Martin Kampmann, Ph.D. (University of California, San Francisco)
Leveraging a high-throughput CRISPR screen to uncover convergent phenotypes across autism genes

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