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Birkbeck Psychological Scientists awarded grant for infant autism research

The Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) pilot award will fund a project which aims to better understand autism symptoms in infants and toddlers.

Drs Emma Meaburn and Emily Jones from the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development (CBCD) and Department of Psychological Sciences at Birkbeck have been awarded a prestigious Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) pilot award, which will fund a project focused on understanding how genetic variation influences early brain development and results in  autism symptoms in infants and toddlers.  

The Simons Foundation aims to advance the frontiers of research in mathematics and sciences and supports research in mathematics, theoretical physics, theoretical computer science, life sciences and autism research initiatives, which Meaburn and Jones’ grant falls under.

Dr Meaburn leads the Behavioural Genomics Group at Birkbeck, which aims to better understand the biological basis of individual differences in behaviour and psychopathologies in childhood and adolescence.

She said: “We are incredibly excited about this project! There have been enormous strides in the identification of genetic variants associated with autism, but despite these advances, we still know very little about the mechanisms by which they affect the developing infant brain - especially with regards to changes in social attention. We hope that this project will provide some crucial insights, and are indebted to the infants and their families who are participating in the study."

Dr Jones is a Lecturer in Birkbeck’s Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, where her research focuses on the mechanisms that underlie symptom emergence in infants at risk for neurodevelopmental disorders.

She said: “We are very grateful to have received support from SFARI for our work. We have recently uncovered differences in social attention that relate to outcomes for infants at risk for autism, but we don’t know whether these are affected by specific genetic variations that have been associated with autism in large samples. This grant will help us figure out these links. In the long term, we hope that we may uncover mechanisms that we can target with early intervention in order to boost outcomes for vulnerable infants.”

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