Researchers from the University of Edinburgh hoping to develop new treatments for autism have received a £20m funding boost from a US philanthropic foundation.
The Simons Foundation has pledged the investment for studies into the biological mechanisms that underpin changes in brain development associated with autism.
Autism spectrum disorders affect about 75 million people worldwide. Symptoms include altered social interaction, communication and restricted and repetitive behaviour.
The Simons Initiative for the Developing Brain will be based at the university’s Patrick Wild Centre for Research into Autism, Fragile X Syndrome and Intellectual Disabilities.
Centre director Professor Peter Kind said: “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.
“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.”
Scientists will use advanced techniques to probe brain development in the presence of DNA changes known to cause autism.
They will investigate how variations in the wiring of the brain can impact how it processes information.
It will enable them to work more closely with clinical teams that care for children and their families, and allow the development and testing of new therapies.
Louis F Reichardt, director of the Simons Foundation autism research initiative, said: “We hope the foundation’s support will enable them to apply these types of studies to other conditions on the autism spectrum.”
Foundation chairman Jim Simons added: “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.”
University principal Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea 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.”