Exeter secures international autism research grant

Painting by Helen Spiers

A three year international research grant of $975,000 USD (almost £750,000) has been awarded to the University of Exeter for research by Professor Jonathan Mill into the genetics of autism.

The Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) awarded the grant to Mill, who heads the Complex Disease Epigenomics Group at the University of Exeter Medical School. His group researches how genes are controlled in mental health and disease, and this award will enable him to pursue research into the causes of autism in greater detail.

The project, which will be undertaken in collaboration with researchers at the Genome Institute in Singapore, aims to characterise changes in gene regulation across human brain development. It builds on previous work in the Mill lab exploring gene changes during neurodevelopment and neuropsychiatric conditions such as autism. The team will investigate different types of gene function in the developing brain, and use new methods to analyse changes in individual brain cells.

Professor Mill, from the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “The origins of autism are thought to occur very early during development of the brain. Characterising the genomic changes occurring during this period gives us a fantastic opportunity to understand the complex genetic underpinnings of autism.”

Launched in 2003, SFARI is a scientific initiative within the Simons Foundation’s suite of programs. SFARI’s mission is to improve the understanding, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders by funding innovative research of the highest quality and relevance.

SFARI Director Louis Reichardt said: “SFARI is pleased to be funding these investigators and supporting their labs’ efforts to better understand the neurobiology of autism.

“We look forward to seeing the outcomes of these projects and hope that the new insights can help accelerate the development of improved diagnostic tools and treatment options for individuals with autism.”

Date: 5 October 2018