Edinburgh University researchers receive £20 million grant for autism research

The University of Edinburgh have been awarded £20 million by The Simons Foundation for groundbreaking autism research. Researchers hope to build on past studies to uncover more biological mechanisms that cause alterations in brain development.

According to the Simons Foundation, a particular focus will be placed on how various wirings of the brain can affect how  information is processed. This is the function that provides the foundation for human intellectual and social abilities.

Through the help of new insight into the causes of autism, researchers hope to develop new treatments for those with the condition.
75 million people worldwide are affected by autism, a lifelong learning disability.

As a spectrum condition, people suffer from autism in different ways although there are many common and shared difficulties. Social communication, restricted and repetitive behaviour, social interaction and sensory sensitivity are key symptoms of the condition.

Many children with autism also have medical conditions including sleep disturbance and seizures. The condition is most commonly cared for through behavioural treatments and medicine.

Professor Peter Kind, director of the Patrick Wild Centre for Research into Autism, Fragile X Syndrome and Intellectual Disabilities, told the BBC: “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,” he continued.

“Using this knowledge, we aim to deliver new diagnostic tools, better therapeutics and new interventions to the clinic that will address the causes and consequences of autism.”

Jim Simons, chair of the Simon foundation, spoke about the project in a press release, stating: “we are confident that the great scientists already in place, coupled with the comprehensive facility being developed will accelerate understanding of autism and hasten the development of meaningful treatments.”

The Principal of the University of Edinburgh, Professor Timothy O’Shea, has expressed his gratitude for the donation. In a press release he said: “We are tremendously grateful to the Simons Foundation for their generosity and vision.

“Their investment is a landmark commitment amidst an ongoing effort from donors at all levels to deepen our research programmes and accelerate progress in medical science.”


image: Boon Low

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