On Sept. 16, the Burke Medical Research Institute was honored to have Gerald D. Fischbach, M.D. deliver the inaugural Akhter Ahsen Lecture in Autism Research. Dr Fischbach spoke on autism and the social brain and provided an insightful survey of the current state of the field.
As chief scientist and former director of the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative, Dr. Fischbach has overseen important developments in our understanding of autism genetics. Among these initiatives is the Simons Simplex Collection, a permanent repository of genetic samples from 2,800 families (over 10,000 individuals), each of which has one child with an autism spectrum disorder, and unaffected parents and siblings. Participants were recruited from 12 collaborating institutions and the program is unique in including detailed clinic-based cognitive, behavioral, and motor assessments. The collection will help researchers identify de novo genetic variants associated with autism, a search that has already yielded 27 single gene candidates. Dr. Fischbach predicts that over 300 such genetic variants will be found.
In 2013, it was estimated that 1 in 68 children was born on the autism spectrum, up from 1 in 1000 ten years ago, an increase largely due to greater awareness of the condition, said Dr. Fischbach. He discussed recent advances and next steps in our understanding of neural circuits involved in autism—the move beyond single cell recordings in vitro to studying large neuronal ensembles in behaving animals—as well as environmental factors, phenotypes, and therapeutics. Dr. Fischbach concluded with thoughts on how the universal values of the scientific method are particularly essential to the field of autism research: objectivity; data sharing; education; and the democratic, humanistic, and ethical conduct of research.
The annual Akhter Ahsen Lecture in Autism Research honors Dr. Ahsen’s contributions to autism research and treatment with Eidetic Therapy. It also recognizes the generosity of Dr. Ahsen and Dr. Anna Dolan in supporting autism research the Burke Medical Research Institute.