College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Royal approval for autism research suites

Cutting edge facilities to aid research into the causes of autism and other brain conditions have been opened by Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal.

The unit, which houses the latest generation of brain-imaging microscopes, was made possible by a £1 million donation from IT entrepreneur Dame Stephanie ‘Steve’ Shirley.

Latest technology

The facility - based at the University of Edinburgh - will enable scientists to look at living brain cells and the neural circuits they form. The research will help them to better understand how brain cells communicate with each other.

The Shirley Imaging Suites are based within the Patrick Wild Centre for Research into Autism, Intellectual Disability and Fragile X Syndrome.

The Princess Royal, who is Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, was given a tour of the Centre during which staff and students demonstrated the facilities and described current research projects.

Lifelong conditions

Changes in brain cell communication have been linked to autism and other brain disorders but until now researchers at the Centre have not been able to study the activity of living cells in real time.

These are advanced imaging techniques that will transform the way that we can study how brain cells talk to each other. Understanding how brain communication is altered in autism and other related neurological conditions will give us vital clues for new treatments and will help us to better test new therapies.

Professor Peter KindCo-Director of the Patrick Wild Centre

Autism is a serious, lifelong and disabling condition. There are more than half a million people in the UK with autism and to date, there is no licensed treatment.

Research at the facility will provide valuable insights into the causes of these conditions and will enable researchers to better test the effectiveness of new therapies that are in development.

The Shirley Foundation

Dame Stephanie is a pioneering figure of the IT industry. She founded The Shirley Foundation following the death of her son Giles, 35, who suffered from autism and epilepsy.

One of its aims is to support scientific research to discover the causes of autism. It has awarded more than £60 million to date, making it one of the top grant-giving foundations in the UK.

I am proud that my Shirley Foundation has been able to extend the work of the Patrick Wild Research Centre to focus on the perplexing disorder of autism along with Fragile X and Intellectual Disabilities. The Shirley Imaging Suites will help in understanding what autism is, as distinct from what it looks like. The basic research carried out by the Centre is both important and urgent if it is to serve today’s children with autism.

Dame Stephanie ‘Steve’ Shirley