2023 SFARI Cross-Species Studies of ASD Awardees Announced

Seven awardees compilation image

We are pleased to announce that three collaborative projects will be awarded grants in response to the 2023 Cross-Species Studies of ASD request for applications (RFA). These grants will be funded by the Simons Foundation and Simons Foundation International and administered by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI).

The Cross-Species Studies of ASD RFA was launched to support research on behaviors relevant to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their underlying neurobiological mechanisms conducted in parallel across human and non-human animals. Focusing on translation across species, the RFA prioritized projects in sensory function, motor abilities and sleep. Beyond measuring behaviors in parallel across species, special emphasis was placed on furthering our understanding of the underlying neurobiological mechanisms of ASD with an eye towards developing novel biomarkers or interventions. The projects funded by this RFA will not only study the same general behavioral domains in humans and non-human animals, but also measure truly analogous behaviors in humans and model animals.

SFARI intends to provide approximately $3.2 million in funding over the next three years to investigators in three collaborative groups as part of this RFA.

“SFARI introduced the Cross-Species RFA to fund collaborative research on ASD-relevant behaviors that spans humans and non-human animals” says SFARI senior scientist Brigitta Gundersen. “We were impressed by the original and insightful proposals that we’ve chosen to fund, and we’re confident that these projects will lay the groundwork for mechanistic studies in animal models that are truly relevant to human behaviors.”

The projects that SFARI intends to fund are listed below:

Kevin Bender, Ph.D. (University of California, San Francisco), Jason Christie, Ph.D. (University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus) and Somer Bishop, Ph.D. (University of California, San Francisco)
Mechanisms and translation of oculomotor reflexes in autism diagnosis

Kevin Bender and colleagues propose to study oculomotor behaviors in mouse models and children to provide a window into sources of cellular and circuit dysfunction in ASD. The overall objective of this project is to determine if oculomotor behavior can function as an unbiased, quantitative indicator of cerebellar dysfunction associated with this condition.

Shulamite Green, Ph.D. (University of California, Los Angeles) and Neil Harris, Ph.D. (University of California, Los Angeles)
Biomarkers and causal mechanisms of sensory over-responsivity across species

Sensory over-responsivity (SOR) is a severe negative response to sensory stimuli such as noisy environments, scratchy clothing, or being touched present in 50 to 70 percent of individuals with ASD, creating a particular need for translational work to develop treatments for the challenges it presents to people with ASD. In this project, Shulamite Green and colleagues intend to build on their previous research into neural mechanisms and bodily responses associated with SOR to identify commonalities in the neurobiological mechanisms of SOR across children and adolescents with ASD and three mouse models of ASD.

Shantanu Jadhav, Ph.D. (Brandeis University) and Dara Manoach, Ph.D. (Massachusetts General Hospital)
Identifying sleep translational biomarkers in autism

Sleep disturbances afflict the majority of children with autism and may play a causal role in other aspects of ASD, such as social impairment, sensory sensitivities, emotional dysregulation, aggressive behavior, and problems with attention, learning and memory. Shantanu Jadhav and Dara Manoach seek to clarify sleep physiology in people with ASD by characterizing disrupted sleep physiology in humans with genetic mutations linked to autism (i. e. Phelan-McDermid syndrome, fragile X syndrome, and 16p11.2 deletion syndrome) and in rats with mutations in the same genes, using similar methodology. with the goal to identify translational biomarkers of the brain circuit dysfunctions that underly disrupted sleep.

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