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Release: Oct. 9, 2002

UI to participate in new autism research center

Researchers in the University of Iowa College of Public Health and the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine will collaborate in one of the first federal research centers established to examine the biomedical and behavioral aspects of autism.

The UI investigators, led by Tom Wassink, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry; Veronica Vieland, Ph.D., professor of biostatistics, psychiatry and genetics; and Val Sheffield, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute associate investigator, will collaborate with researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The five-year research project funded by the National Institutes of Health focuses on gene-brain behavior relationships in autism. The focus of the UI team is autism disease-gene discovery.

Autism is a brain disorder that affects social, communicative and behavioral functioning from an early age. It is a lifelong condition for which there currently is no cure. Although it is known that genetics and brain dysfunction are involved in autism, exact causes have yet to be identified.

"This award is a terrific endorsement of the accomplishments to date of the UNC/UI team, who've been working together on autism genetics for several years," said Vieland, who also directs the UI Center for Statistical Genetics Research and leads the Division of Statistical Genetics in the Department of Biostatistics. "The new center will give us an opportunity to tie our work in with complementary work on brain and behavior being done at the UNC and other sites. We hope the result will be accelerated progress towards clinical insights into this devastating disorder."

The UNC center is led by Joseph Piven, M.D., and James Bodfish, Ph.D. Also participating on the UI team is Ralph Adolphs, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology. In addition to the UI, other collaborating sites are the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College and Duke University. The research is funded as part of the NIH's STAART (Studies to Advance Autism Research and Treatment) Centers Program.