Vanderbilt researchers receive fellowships to support early identification, genetic causes of autism

December 19, 2003

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Two Vanderbilt Kennedy Center investigators have been awarded mentor-based fellowships by the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) to advance the study of autism.

Wendy Stone, professor of pediatrics, received a NAAR post-doctoral fellowship for researcher Lynnette Henderson to develop a downward age extension of Stone's Screening Tool for Autism in Two-year-olds (STAT). Stone was among seven recipients selected internationally.

"Early identification of autism is the first step toward providing children with tailored services, which have been associated with significant gains in all areas of development," Stone said. "This fellowship will support research to extend our autism screening measure, the STAT, for use with children between the ages of 12 and 24 months."

James Sutcliffe, assistant professor of molecular physiology and biophysics, received a NAAR predoctoral fellowship for student Jacob McCauley to conduct a genetic analysis of serotonergic and GABA-ergic genes in autism. The fellowship was one of six awarded internationally.

"These fellowships are extraordinarily important in supporting not only critical autism research, but also in training young scientists for careers in this area," Sutcliffe said. "Autism has largely genetic origins, and this type of support will strengthen our ability to find the genes involved."

Sutcliffe and McCauley will be examining genes related to neurotransmitter systems believed to be affected in autism for evidence that versions of these genes contribute to an increased risk of developing this devastating disorder.

Established in 1994 by parents of children with autism concerned about the limited amount of funding available for autism research, NAAR is dedicated to funding and accelerating biomedical research focusing on autism spectrum disorders. NAAR committed $1 million to fund these mentor-based fellowships to attract talented young researchers to focus on autism research.

The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development is a national center for research on developmental disabilities. For more information on the Kennedy Center, visit

Vanderbilt University

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