SFARI 2021 Pilot awardees announced

Neuromuscular junction. Fluorescent confocal light micrograph of the junction between a nerve cell and a muscle (not seen). The axon of the nerve cell (neuron) has been tagged with a blue dye. The axon ends at end plates, which form junctions called synapses with the muscle cells. The end plates have been dyed red here by tagging them with the snake venom alpha-bungarotoxin, which binds to them. When a nerve signal reaches the synapse, it causes the synaptic vesicles to rupture, releasing the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. The protein synaptophysin, found in the vesicles, is dyed green. Acetylcholine binds to receptors on the muscle cells, causing them to contract. Magnification: x120 when printed 10cm wide.
Neuromuscular junction. Fluorescent confocal light micrograph showing an axon (blue) making contact with muscle (not seen) at the end plates (red). Pilot awardee Lin Mei plans to study neuromuscular junctions in an autism mouse model to better understand the neural mechanisms underlying reduced muscle strength in autism spectrum disorder. Image credit: Thomas Deerinck, NCMIR/ScienceSource

The Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) is pleased to announce that it intends to fund 17 grants in response to the 2021 Pilot Award request for applications (RFA).

SFARI plans to commit approximately $5 million in funding over the next two years to 20 investigators from the United States and internationally.

The goal of the Pilot Award program is to provide early support for exploratory ideas, particularly those with novel hypotheses, that have the potential to yield transformative results in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) research. The research projects funded in this cycle will focus on a variety of different topics, including epigenetic mechanisms perturbed in ASD, the neural basis of atypical sensory perception and integration in ASD, as well as new devices for the detection of neuromodulators that play key roles in regulating social behaviors.

“On behalf of SFARI, I’d like to congratulate all of the investigators who’ve received these awards,” says Kelsey Martin, director of SFARI and the Simons Foundation Neuroscience Collaborations. “We are pleased that we are able to fund a significant number of potentially transformative projects and think they will lead to important new discoveries that can advance our understanding of autism.”

Applications for Pilot Awards are now reviewed on an annual basis. The next Pilot Award RFA (2022) is expected to open in January 2022.

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

Hiroki Asari, Ph.D. (European Molecular Biology Laboratory)
Anomalous visual integration in autism

Steve Chang, Ph.D. (Yale University), Anirvan Nandy, Ph.D. and Monika Jadi, Ph.D. (Yale School of Medicine)
Enhancing reciprocal cooperation through prefrontal microstimulation

Ype Elgersma, Ph.D. (Erasmus University Medical Center)
UBE3A regulation of the nuclear proteasome

Gordon Fishell, Ph.D. (Harvard Medical School)
Identifying the epigenetic vulnerability of neurodevelopment

John Flanagan, Ph.D. (Harvard Medical School)
RNA binding protein CPEB4 in cortical neuron development and autism

Bilal Haider, Ph.D. (Georgia Institute of Technology)
Tracking sensory signals across multiple cortical areas during impaired sensory perception in autism model mice

Justus Kebschull, Ph.D. (Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine)
Identifying convergent autism wiring defects using single-cell comparative connectomics

Markita Landry, Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley)
Generating fluorescent near-infrared nanosensors to image oxytocin in the brain

Charles H. Langley, Ph.D. (University of California, Davis) and Gary Karpen, Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley)
Genomic variation in centromeric proximal regions and risk of autism

Howard Lipshitz, Ph.D. (University of Toronto)
RNA-binding proteins in autism

Jenna McHenry, Ph.D. (Duke University)
Illuminating socially-modulated homeostatic control circuits in the mouse

Lin Mei, M.D., Ph.D. (Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine)
Neuromuscular mechanisms of motor deficits of autism

Adi Mizrahi, Ph.D. (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
The role of cortical feedback in autism

Lucia Peixoto, Ph.D. (Washington State University)
Understanding insomnia in the autism spectrum using mouse models

Matthias Stadtfeld, Ph.D. (Weill Cornell Medicine)
Modeling deficiencies in autism-associated chromatin regulators during human neurogenesis using multipurpose degron alleles

Stefan Strack, Ph.D. (The University of Iowa)
Molecular signatures and reversibility in mouse models of Jordan’s Syndrome

Kevin Yackle, M.D., Ph.D. (University of California, San Francisco)
The impact of autism gene mutations on vocalization neural circuits

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