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January 3, 2012

Autism Speaks Awards Grants to Bloomberg School Faculty

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health faculty M. Daniele Fallin and Li-Ching Lee are among the latest researchers to receive grants from Autism Speaks.

Fallin, PhD, is a professor the Department of Epidemiology and director of the School’s Center for Autism & Developmental Disabilities Epidemiology (CADDE). Lee, PhD, ScM, is an associate scientist and a co-director of CADDE.

Fallin’s project, funded for a total of nearly $500,000 over three years, will focus on epigenetic modification of gene function.  Using data from 600 children in the national Study to Explore Early Development (SEED), Fallin and postdoctoral fellow Christine Ladd-Acosta will examine genome-wide DNA methylation, which may provide clues to interplay between particular genetic sequences and specific environmental exposures. The researchers note growing evidence that DNA methylation is susceptible to environmental exposures, providing a physical link between environmental risk factors and genetics. 

“Autism Speaks realizes the importance of this new area of research and has really put forth effort to ensure we can explore it,” Fallin said.

Lee, funded a total of $200,000 over two years, will continue her collaborative work to address Autism Spectrum Disorders in Taiwan. Working with Kaohsiung Medical University and the Calo Hospital in Southern Taiwan, the team will develop an in-home, parent-led intervention for children with autism who reside in PingTung, Taiwan. The goal of the project is to develop, implement, and evaluate a comprehensive and culturally sensitive ASD intervention. Lee has collaborated with the Taiwan institutions for five years so far.

“We’re just very grateful for this grant, because it represents a way to reach out to the global community affected by autism, particularly those who live in areas that are underserved and have few resources,” Lee said. “Autism affects everyone – no matter what country you live in.”

Rebecca Landa, PhD, CCC-SLP, who directs the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Center for Autism and Related Disorders and is a co-director of the CADDE, received a three-year grant totaling nearly $450,000 to examine the effectiveness of a social enhancement intervention for toddlers with ASD. The social enhancement intervention will include children ages 24 months to 30 months old.

Nicolaas Puts, PhD, of Johns Hopkins is among the first recipients of an Autism Speaks-funded postdoctoral fellowship in translational autism research, which is intended to encourage investigators to enter the field of ASD translational research by providing funding for multidisciplinary training with at least two mentors. Puts, funded for a total of $113,000 over two years, will focus on adapting magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to non-invasively characterize changes in the inhibitory brain chemical GABA, which is linked to brain development, cognitive functioning, and sensory processing. Puts will be working with mentors at JHU and Kennedy Krieger Institute.

Autism Spectrum Disorders refer to a range of conditions characterized by difficulty with social interaction, impaired communication, and repetitive behaviors and interests.  Such disorders affect an estimated 1 in 100 children in the United States.
 
Media contact: Tim Parsons, director of public affairs, at 410-955-7619 or tmparson@jhsph.edu.