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Autism and Neurodevelopment Program

Autism Spectrum Disorders: The Philippine Experience

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Pharmacologic Treatments of Autism Spectrum Disorders

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State of Autism Science Webinar

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Temple Grandin: The world needs all kinds of minds

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Autism Now: Exploring the 'Phenomenal' Increase in U.S. Prevalence

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What is Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum?

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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.

Erik Ullian, PhD

Assistant Professor of 
Ophthalmology

Erik Ullian is a neuroscientist who studies how nerve cells connect.

At his laboratory at the Koret Vision Center at UCSF, Ullian now studies the conditions under which synapses, or connections between nerve cells, are formed in the brain. Using transgenic mice, he is investigating how connections between neurons can be established and modified when nerve cells fire, and when they exchange bits of genetic material.

He also studies an unexpected factor: astrocytes, star-shaped support cells previously thought to be only gap-fillers in the brain, now known to guide how nerve cells connect. Using stem cells from individuals on the autism spectrum, combined with new imaging technologies, Dr. Ullian is studying the impact of these support cells on how synapses form in the autistic brain. His research may have an impact on our understanding of numerous diseases of the brain.

Dr. Ullian completed his postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University.

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