Autism Consortium symposium draws record number of researchers, advocates, parents for autism update

November 05, 2009

Boston - November 5, 2009 - The Autism Consortium, an innovative collaboration of researchers, clinicians, funders and families dedicated to catalyzing research and enhancing clinical care for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), held its fourth annual symposium on October 28th, 2009, at Harvard Medical School in Boston. The meeting gave scientists, clinicians, advocates and parents an opportunity to gather for the latest information on causes of autism and their implications for diagnosis, prognosis and therapies for people with autism spectrum disorders.

"We're proud to host this important meeting and facilitate what has become a unique and growing collaboration among scientists and families," said Peter Barrett, partner in the Life Sciences group at Atlas Venture and chair of the Autism Consortium's board of directors. "The symposium provides a forum for researchers working to find the next breakthroughs in autism to meet not only with each other to share their latest finding but also directly with practitioners who are treating children and their parents."

The symposium's scope and attendance doubled this year, with an increase in scientific posters presented from 19 in 2008 to 38 and attendance rising from 200 to 400 over last year.

"The dramatic growth of this year's symposium strengthens our resolve to bring researchers, clinicians and families together to move the needle on autism research as quickly as possible," said Deirdre Philips, executive director of the Autism Consortium. "The Autism Consortium encourages families to become vested partners in the research process, participating in studies whenever they can to provide the broadest possible foundation for new discoveries that will lead to new treatments."

Current Autism Issues Discussed

The symposium opened with a welcome from Barrett and Phillips. The morning session provided a snapshot of current autism issues:Latest Autism Research Presented for Discussion

Throughout the day, 38 researchers presented posters on their ongoing research in autism, ranging from new advances in clinical care to data mining, RNA editing and genomic arrangements.

The afternoon session, lead by Mriganka Sur, PhD, Newton Professor of Neuroscience, Head, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, included presentations on several promising areas of autism research and panel discussions among the presenters.

Chromosome 16p11.2 and Autism

Autism Consortium research last year resulted in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showing strong and compelling evidence that a region on chromosome 16 appears to play an important role in susceptibility for autism spectrum disorders. Scanning genetic data from more than 3,000 individuals, researchers found that a deletion or duplication of a specific section of chromosome 16 (referred to as 16p11.2) accounts for approximately 1% of autism cases.

Since this discovery, researchers from eleven labs have begun an exciting collaboration on the investigation of this region of chromosome 16 and the role it plays in autism. Eight scientists working in this area presented an update on their latest findings: Hazel Sive, PhD, Member, Whitehead Institute and Professor, Department of Biology, MIT, presented her work using the zebrafish as a tool to define the function of the genes contained in the 16p11.2 interval during early brain development.

Family Resource Fair

For the first time in 2009, the Symposium included a Family Resource Fair, a forum for support and advocacy organizations to provide information on their programs and services. The Resource Fair was especially well received by the many autism family members and caregivers in attendance.
About the Autism Consortium

The Autism Consortium is a scientific and clinical collaboration that includes 14 institutions, supported by a non-profit that is dedicated to facilitating and catalyzing research and improving clinical care. The mission of the Autism Consortium is to catalyze rapid advances in understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of autism by engaging, supporting, and fostering collaboration among a community of clinicians, researchers, donors and families in order to improve the care of children and families affected by autism and other neurological disorders. The Consortium brings together some of the best minds across the region from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Medical Center, Boston University, Boston University School of Medicine, Broad Institute, Children's Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts General Hospital, the Lurie Family Autism Center/LADDERS at MGH, McLean Hospital, The Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center, UMASS Medical School , UMASS Memorial Health Care.

To learn more about the Autism Consortium, please visit

Autism Consortium

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