SFARI Summer 2019 Pilot awardees announced

Villi in the small intestine. Increased gut permeability, otherwise known as a leaky gut, has been observed in individuals with autism as well as several genetic models of the disorder. Evan Elliott plans to study how Chd8 haploinsufficiency leads to gastrointestinal dysfunction. Image credit: Thomas Deerinck, NCMIR/Science Source.

The Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) is pleased to announce that it intends to fund 12 grants in response to the Summer 2019 Pilot Award request for applications (RFA).

Pilot Awards support novel, high-risk and exploratory projects that have the potential to yield transformative results in autism research. The grants awarded in this cycle aim to further our understanding of the effects of ASD-linked genetic mutations on brain function and behavior, develop analytical tools to find new genes associated with ASD, and identify biomarkers. This research will tackle a variety of key areas affected in ASD, with a focus on the molecular and neural basis of atypical sensory perception and motor control, as well as changes in the gut/brain axis that contribute to gastrointestinal issues often observed in the disorder.

SFARI intends to provide more than $3 million over the next two years to support the 16 investigators leading these projects.

“Though we now know more than we used to about autism, we do not fully comprehend the biological causes and mechanisms of this complex, often devastating, disorder. We hope that these grants will help scientists find answers to some of these questions and fuel more research for developing potential treatments,” says SFARI director Louis Reichardt.

Following changes to SFARI’s grant-funding mechanisms, applications for Pilot Awards are now reviewed on a biannual basis. The deadline for the Winter 2020 Pilot Award RFA recently passed; the next Pilot Award RFA (Summer 2020) will open in February 2020.

“We were delighted to see the diversity of applications we received, representing many different areas of autism research. We are thrilled to support Pilot Awards that are truly innovative and potentially very impactful,” adds SFARI senior scientist Brigitta Gundersen.

The projects that SFARI intends to fund in this cycle include:

A. Ercument Cicek, Ph.D. (Bilkent University)
Speeding up autism gene discovery via multitask learning on comorbid neuropsychiatric disorders

Christopher Ahern, Ph.D. (The University of Iowa)
A tRNA-based gene therapy approach for high-fidelity repair of SCN2A premature termination codons

Christopher Cowan, Ph.D., Hainan Lang, M.D., Ph.D. and Baerbel Rohrer, Ph.D. (Medical University of South Carolina)
Linking neuroimmune dysfunction, sensory system defects and autism-like behavior in a new mouse model of syndromic autism

Enrico Domenici, Ph.D. (University of Trento)
Integrated metagenomic analysis of the oral microbiome in autism spectrum disorders

Evan Elliott, Ph.D. (Bar-Ilan University)
Gastrointestinal dysfunction and the gut-brain axis in Chd8 haploinsufficiency

April Levin, M.D. (Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School)
Both overstimulated and understimulated: Gain control in children with autism

Scott Murray, Ph.D. and Raphael Bernier, Ph.D. (University of Washington)
Disrupted stimulus offset responses in autism spectrum disorder

Sacha Nelson, M.D., Ph.D. (Brandeis University)
Network activity and homeostatic plasticity as endophenotypes for autism spectrum disorder

Bence Ölveczky, Ph.D. (Harvard University)
Characterizing the behavioral organization and underlying neural dynamics in rat models of autism spectrum disorder across a range of spatiotemporal scales using a novel platform for high-resolution kinematic tracking

Brian O’Roak, Ph.D. (Oregon Health & Science University)
Integrating germline and mosaic mutations to uncover novel autism risk genes and biologic mechanisms

Sofie Salama, Ph.D. and David Haussler, Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Cruz)
Assessing the role of NOTCH2NL in autism

Stephan Sanders, B.M.B.S, Ph.D. (University of California, San Francisco)
Identification and manipulation of splicing variants that contribute to autism

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