The Simons Initiative for the Developing Brain (SIDB) was established in 2017. It is a collaborative venture between researchers at the University of Edinburgh whose mission is to discover biological mechanisms underlying autism and to use this information to deliver rational therapeutic interventions. Peter Kind is the Director and Adrian Bird is the Deputy Director.
SIDB aims to build on the existing fundamental and clinical strengths in molecular, cellular, circuit and behavioral neuroscience located within the Patrick Wild Centre. Innovative collaborative projects designed to elucidate fundamental knowledge of autism will be prioritized for funding and new principal investigators will be recruited in strategic areas. SIDB also plans to establish Ph.D. and postdoctoral fellowship programs that are dedicated to autism-focused research.
Both bottom-up and top-down approaches will be pursued in order to understand the mechanisms underlying autism and to identify rational targets for novel interventions. Model development and identification of robust phenotypes will allow for the rigorous testing of these interventions before selectively progressing potential treatments to the clinic. The bottom-up approach will target either genetic causes (using novel gene-editing strategies and virus-based gene delivery systems) or the molecular/biochemical pathways directly affected by the genetic alteration (e.g., by correcting signaling cascades). The complementary top-down approach will target the circuit and cellular deficits in an attempt to directly restore normal brain physiology. This latter approach has been greatly enhanced by the Patrick Wild Centre’s recent strategic investment in the generation of multiple rat models for autism.
As there are no treatments for autism, we do not know a priori which therapeutic approaches will be most effective, nor the appropriate age at which they should be initiated. Indeed, the best approach may vary according to the developmental stage and whether the underlying genetic mutation disrupts neural development or neural maintenance. When undertaken together in the highly collaborative environment fostered within the Patrick Wild Centre, these complementary bottom-up and top-down approaches promise to transform our understanding of autism.