Autism BrainNet has selected two recipients of the 2022 Autism BrainNet Appreciation Award. Launched in 2021, this award recognizes outstanding partners and collaborators of the program for their dedication to advancing brain tissue research into the causes and treatments of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and related neurodevelopmental conditions.
A program of Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI), Autism BrainNet relies on a strong partnership with medical examiners, pathologists, researchers and families to bring the use of postmortem brain tissue to the forefront of autism research. The Appreciation Award is given annually in the form of a plaque to eligible candidates, including medical examiners, tissue banks, organ procurement organizations, funeral homes and other individuals and organizations that are partnering with Autism BrainNet.
To date, the Autism BrainNet collection consists of 276 brains, including 118 brains from individuals with a confirmed (88) or suspected (30) diagnosis of ASD, 13 brains from individuals whose diagnosis of ASD could not be confirmed, 28 brains from individuals without a diagnosis of autism but with a genetic diagnosis included in the SPARK gene list that confers a high risk of autism, 113 brains from individuals with no known psychiatric or neurological conditions, and 4 brains from individuals with epilepsy without ASD diagnosis.
The collection also comprises the Autism Celloidin Library, a resource of 28 postmortem brains from 14 donors with ASD and 14 neurotypical individuals sectioned and stained for stereological analysis.
“We are excited to announce this year’s recipients,” says David Amaral, Autism BrainNet scientific director. “We are grateful for their contribution to facilitate donations to the program and for their continuous support of our mission.”
The 2022 Autism BrainNet Appreciation Award recipients are:
Wendy K. Chung, M.D., Ph.D.
Director of Clinical Research, Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative
Kennedy Family Professor of Pediatrics in Medicine, Columbia University
Wendy K. Chung is director of clinical research at the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) and the principal investigator of SPARK (Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research) and Simons Searchlight. Her role includes managing the research program in individuals with autism, evaluating opportunities to develop new treatments for autism, including medications such as arbaclofen, and developing novel outcome measures to evaluate the efficacy of these treatments. She is involved in identifying novel genes for autism and characterizing the clinical features associated with these novel genes. She is leading the effort to build a community of individuals with autism and their families, working with them to better understand the causes of autism.
Chung earned her undergraduate degree in biochemistry and economics from Cornell University, her M.D. from Cornell University Medical College and her Ph.D. in human genetics from the Rockefeller University. She completed her residency in pediatrics and fellowships in medical and molecular genetics at Columbia University. Chung is also the Kennedy Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine at Columbia University, where she directs the clinical genetics program and performs human genetics research.
Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency (LOPA) is the federally designated, not-for-profit organ and tissue recovery agency for the state of Louisiana. LOPA was founded in April 1988 and works every day to fulfill its core purpose of “Making Life Happen.” LOPA’s research department was established in 2015 with the goal of recovering and providing quality tissue to assist in the advancement of medicine.
LOPA is one of Autism BrainNet’s professional partners. Established in December 2020, the partnership between LOPA and Autism BrainNet is helping to address the need for brain donations to further autism research.
“We are very proud of our partnership with Autism BrainNet and our research team,” says Michelle Duvernay, LOPA Director of Organizational Initiatives. “We will continue to look for more opportunities to contribute to this important research.”
“It is an honor to work with this amazing program that has had such a meaningful impact on our donor families,” adds Tina Madere, LOPA Program Manager.