Lauren A. Weiss, PhD

Staglin Family/IMHRO Assistant Professor 
of Psychiatry

Dr. Lauren Weiss is working to uncover the genetic mechanisms behind autism spectrum disorders. Her genetics laboratory is taking an ambitious two-pronged approach.

First, Dr. Weiss is tracing how genes might interact with factors such as sex and environment in autism. For example, she is searching for genetic differences to explain why girls develop autism less often than boys. She is asking whether a parent’s genes can affect a baby’s risk for autism. And she is studying how rare genetic diseases can be used to uncover the genetic architecture of autism. These approaches might lead to better understanding of the biology of autism leading to novel treatment directions, as well as provide better diagnostic tools and risk prediction.

Second, Dr. Weiss is revealing precisely how autism genes affect neural development using a new approach: generating stem cells from patient skin samples. These stem cells can be turned into neurons and other cells of the brain in order to study their growth, development, and function in the lab. Once the cellular deficits are revealed using this model, Dr. Weiss will investigate how those deficits can be modified or corrected, potentially leading to new therapeutic approaches.

Dr. Weiss’ long-term goal is the genetic and molecular dissection of the social deficits underlying autism in order to improve understanding, prediction, and treatment.