While the rate of autism diagnoses has increased dramatically over the past two decades, knowledge about the disability and how to support those impacted by it is still limited. The number of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the United States has grown from 1 in 150 to 1 in 68 over the last decade according to the Center for Disease Control. Yet services for people with autism remain fragmented, not nearly enough professionals are qualified to deliver these services, and there is still much to learn about the causes of autism and improving outcomes. Autism is a complex disorder and requires expertise from brain science, to medical care, to human development. UVA is uniquely poised to study the environmental and genetic factors and ultimately identify biomarkers and novel treatments to improve outcomes for those affected by autism.
Recently, researchers at the University of Virginia determined that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by vessels previously thought not to exist. That such vessels could have escaped detection when the lymphatic system has been so thoroughly mapped is surprising, but the true significance of the discovery lies in the effects it could have on the study and treatment of neurological disorders ranging from autism to Alzheimer’s disease to MS. The brain immune system missing link raises a tremendous number of questions both about the workings of the brain and the diseases that plague it. UVA researchers have also identified that the immune system plays in a key role in controlling social interactions. The discovery of the brain’s lymphatic system, in combination with the finding that immune system can affect the ability to have normal social interaction, creates a new opportunity for impactful autism research. Neuroscientists at UVA are now building upon these discoveries with promising research studies.
The University of Virginia Curry School of Education has received significant funding for an ambitious new effort to establish UVA as a global leader in autism research. UVA's Board of Visitors awarded $6.2 million from the Strategic Investment Fund to The Supporting Transformative Autism Research (STAR) Initiative, which aims to improve the lives of individuals with autism through groundbreaking research and innovative models for intervention and training. Read more about this new Research Core by clicking the Curry logo.
Our Autism Team:
Beth Ellen Davis, MD, MPH, is a Professor of Developmental Pediatrics. Dr. Davis was a LEND trainee in 1999 while earning an MPH at UW Seatlle, and her research interests include systems of care and addressing the health care transition needs of adolescents and young adults with ASD.
Pamela DeGuzman, PhD, MBA, Assistant Professor of Nursing, researches geospatial mapping and community-lvel gaps in early identification of ASD for uninsured children living in rural areas.
Jane Hilton, PhD, Assistant Professor of Speech Language Pathology, specializes in communication in ASD. She studies comparative effectiveness of intervention approaches used to improve the communication skills of children on the spectrum.
Youjia Hua, PhD, Assistant Professor of Education, has extensive experience designing and evaluating academic and behavioral interventiosn using single-case research designs. He developed the first applied behavior analysis university training program in China for parents and teachers to work with children with autism.
John Lukens, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neuroscience whose research is aims to understand how immunological pathways and interactions contribute to the development of neurodegenerative, neurodevelopmental and behavioral disorders. His lab is focused on uncovering how microbiota diversity, sex differences, unchecked inflammatory responses during pregnancy, and genetic factors influence autism development.
Micah Mazurek, PhD, Associate Professor of Education, has expertise in assessment and treatment of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. She has an active program of federally-funded research focused on understanding and improving outcomes for individuals with autism and their families. Her research has been funded by the NIH, HHS, DOD, Autism Speaks and other agencies. Her current focus is on developing new tools, techniques, and technologies for improving diagnosis, treatment, and access to care. She also research co-occurring problems in ASD (e.g. sensory problems, sleep problems, anxiety, and aggression) and screen-based technology use in children and adults with ASD.
James Morris, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology, leads a research program that seeks to characterize neural systems underlying both normal and abnormal forms of social cognition and interpersonal functioning. His lab takes a multimodal approach including the use of functional MRI, EEG, eye-gazing monitoring, genetics and epigenetics, and hormonal measures.
Kevin Pelphrey, PhD, Professor of Neurology, has investigated the brain basis of neurodevelopmental disorders to develop tools for detection, stratification, and individually tailored treatments. His team has identified the neural circuitry of social cues, including auditory, visual, and tactile signals. They have applied this knowledge to understand what predicts responses to available treatments, interventions, and therapies.