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Major pledge boosts research into autism spectrum disorders

A substantial investment will help Edinburgh researchers better understand autism spectrum disorders. Professor Peter Kind provides an insight into plans for the Simons Initiative for the Developing Brain.

Professor Peter Kind

The Simons Foundation has pledged £20 million for pioneering studies into the biological mechanisms that underpin changes in brain development associated with autism spectrum disorders.

The Simons Initiative for the Developing Brain will be based at the University of Edinburgh’s Patrick Wild Centre for Research into Autism, Fragile X Syndrome and Intellectual Disabilities.

Professor Peter Kind will serve as Director of the new Simons Initiative for the Developing Brain, and also of the Patrick Wild Centre.

This is an amazing opportunity to bring together a range of scientific and clinical expertise at the University with the aim of understanding how the brain develops on multiple levels, including molecular biology, neural circuitry, genetics, behaviour and cognition. By combining these approaches, we will learn how a healthy brain matures and gain valuable insights into the developmental origins of autism spectrum disorders.

Professor Peter KindDirector of the Simons Initiative for the Developing Brain, and also of the Patrick Wild Centre

The wiring of the brain

Experts will use advanced techniques to probe brain development in the presence of DNA changes that are known to cause autism spectrum disorders.

They will investigate how variations in the wiring of the brain can impact on way the brain processes information, which ultimately underlies our intellectual and social abilities.

Professor Kind explains that the bringing together of expertise in Neuroscience will comprise a key focus of the iniative. "This will come in the form of collaborative projects between researchers in four key areas; molecuar, behaviour, circuits and cells" he said. "There will be core funding available for PhD students who will work in these new collaborative groups" he added.

Collaborative working

The initiative will also enable brain scientists to work more closely with clinicians. 

Whilst discovery research comprises a crucial step in the early part of our work, the long term aim is to apply our findings to help people and their families who are affected by autism spectrum disorders. We look forward to working closely with clinical teams, children and families to develop and test new therapies.

Professor Peter Kind

Cross college working

Research will take place across both the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine and the College of Science and Engineering.

Professor Adrian Bird of the School of Biological Sciences has been appointed Deputy Director of the Initiative. The long-term plan is for the Simons Initiative for the Developing Brain is to co-locate scientists at a single site on the Little France campus.

Professors Peter Kind and Adrian Bird have already met with members of the group, discussions have started around new projects across the four main collaborative groups. Of course many members are already working together on existing projects and are primed to expand on their collaborative work within this exciting initiative.

We are fortunate to have such an excellent array of expertise in the field of Brain Development and Function at the University of Edinburgh. With this resource coupled with this significant investment, I am confident that we can make great advances in understanding autism spectrum disorders.

Professor Peter Kind

Autism spectrum disorders affect approximately 75 million people worldwide. Key symptoms include altered social interaction, communication and restricted and repetitive behaviour. The disorders are often associated with intellectual disability or impaired motor control.

Related links

Patrick Wild Centre for Research into Autism, Fragile X Syndrome and Intellectual Disabilities

Edinburgh Medical School

Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative

Simons Foundation