A leading UK businesswoman has made a major donation towards autism research.
Dame Stephanie ‘Steve’ Shirley, a pioneering figure of the IT industry, has pledged £1 million to the University’s Patrick Wild Centre, which is dedicated to understanding autism and other intellectual disabilities.
Since the death of her son Giles, 35, who suffered from autism and epilepsy, Dame Stephanie has increasingly focused her energy on philanthropic work through her foundation.
The donation will go towards creating a world-class, state-of-the-art imaging suite that will enable scientists to study the condition in new ways.
Dame Stephanie founded the software company FI Group - now known as Xansa / Steria - in the 1960s. She adopted the name “Steve” to help her in the male-dominated business environment of the day.
The Shirley Foundation is one of the top grant-giving foundations in the UK with well over £50 million grants awarded. One of its aims is to support scientific research to discover the causes of autism.
The big question is what causes autism, as distinct from what it looks like. Research has moved beyond looking at its consequences to examine how biology, genetics and behaviour all link together. Results cannot be guaranteed but my hope is that this imaging suite will attract more quality researchers to focus on autism.
The Patrick Wild Centre for Research into Autism, Fragile X Syndrome and Intellectual Disabilities brings together university specialists who want to develop and test new treatments having pinpointed how genetic changes cause the illness.
The Patrick Wild Centre was set up last year following donations to the University by graduate Dr Alfred Wild and Gus Alusi and Reem Waines, a London-based family whose six-year-old son, Kenz has Fragile X Syndrome.
The centre is named in memory of Dr Wild’s brother Patrick, who was severely autistic, and as a tribute to their parents who cared for Patrick throughout his life.
It is becoming clear that many forms of autism result from changes in how brain cells talk to each other. Modern imaging techniques allow us to monitor brain cell communication to gain insights into the potential causes of and treatments for autism.
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.
Fragile X syndrome is the most common inherited form of intellectual disability, and the most common known genetic cause of autism spectrum disorders. It affects an estimated 12,000-15,000 people in the UK.
The condition is the result of a genetic mutation and takes its name from the ‘fragile’ appearance of the X chromosome on which this gene appears.
The disorder can cause severe learning difficulties and language impairment, sensory hypersensitivity, and behavioural symptoms such as anxiety, attentional difficulties and hyperactivity.
We are incredibly grateful to Dame Stephanie for this generous gift, which we hope will play a part in developing better treatments for people with autism and related disorders.