Kelsey Martin to lead the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative, Neuroscience Collaborations

The Simons Foundation is delighted to announce that neuroscientist Kelsey Martin will be the next director of the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI). Starting in September 2021, she will helm SFARI’s continuing work to improve the understanding, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders by funding innovative high-quality research.

Martin will also oversee the Simons Collaboration on the Global Brain, the Simons Collaboration on Plasticity and the Aging Brain and the informatics group, with an eye toward fostering greater synergies among them.

Martin’s track record of scientific leadership and expertise in neuroscience research made her the right person for the position, says Simons Foundation president David Spergel. “Kelsey Martin’s scientific range and depth, her engagement with both basic research and translational work, her vision and her leadership skills make her a superb next leader of our SFARI program and our broader program supporting external neuroscience research. I look forward to her leading our efforts to enable transformative scientific advances in these areas.”

“Since its founding in 2003, SFARI has pioneered major transformational science for autism spectrum disorder,” Martin says. “I am deeply honored now to help SFARI continue to make history. Leading SFARI and partnering with the Simons Foundation community, I am confident that we will continue to catalyze groundbreaking science and therapeutic innovations that will play a major role in defining neuroscience in the twenty-first century.”

SFARI’s John Spiro served as interim director during the search for former SFARI director Louis Reichardt’s replacement. “Assuming leadership after Louis Reichardt’s retirement, John Spiro has done a superb job guiding SFARI,” David Spergel says. “John will lead SFARI until Kelsey joins the Simons Foundation in September and will continue as part of its leadership.”

“The entire SFARI science team is looking forward to Kelsey’s arrival,” says SFARI interim director John Spiro. “Her broad scientific and administrative experience will be a terrific asset to SFARI and the neuroscience collaborations.”

Martin is currently dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. In her position, she leads more than 10,000 scientists, innovators, physicians and trainees. Martin has served in the role since 2015, when she took over as interim dean, before being appointed permanent dean in 2016.

During her tenure, Martin established efforts to further the use of genomics in medicine, including the Institute for Precision Health, the Department of Computational Medicine and a master’s program in genetic counseling. In addition, she spearheaded efforts to foster an inclusive environment at the medical school, developing the school’s antiracism road map and appointing the inaugural vice dean for justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.

She received her Ph.D. in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University in 1991, and her M.D. there the following year. She then worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Nobel laureate Eric Kandel at Columbia University. Martin’s neuroscience research focuses on integrating a broad range of approaches to understand how experience changes brain connectivity to store long-term memories.

Since joining the UCLA faculty in 1999, Martin has served as a professor in the departments of biological chemistry and psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, as chair of the department of biological chemistry and as co-director of the UCLA-Caltech Medical Scientist Training Program.

Martin is a recipient of the Eric R. Kandel Inaugural Award from Columbia University and the Wilber Lucius Cross Medal from Yale University. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine.

Before receiving her doctorate, she served in the Peace Corps as a public health volunteer in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and as editor and researcher for the Journal of Public Health in Africa. Her experiences in the Peace Corps motivated her to become a physician-scientist, Martin says.

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