Autism is a disabling, lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder with core deficits in social interaction, language, and stereotyped behaviors. Once considered rare, autism is now known to affect 1 in 150 persons, with only 8-10% achieving independent and satisfying lives. The M.I.N.D. Institute was founded at UC Davis in 1998 through a parent-university collaboration to elucidate the causes of autism, and develop innovative approaches to its prevention, treatment, and possible cure. Its founders and faculty understand the necessity of interdisciplinary science to uncover the biology of autism, the links between biology, environment, and behavior, and the development of translational strategies for preventing, ameliorating, or resolving the disabling symptoms of autism. Conducting meaningful translational science requires a new level of interdisciplinary teamwork among clinicians, basic scientists and educators. To foster this effort, in 2004 the M.I.N.D. Institute began an NIH-supported postdoctoral training program to prepare future autism scientists. The primary goal has been to develop a new generation of scientists who can freely convese with each other at levels from basic science to clinical practice. This program has already enrolled 15 fellows who have trained together to develop competencies in areas crucial to autism research: epidemiology, genetics- genomics, immunology, neuroanatomy, neuroimaging, animal behavior, human behavior, human development, psychopharmacology, clinical aspects of autism, research design and analysis, cultural competence, and ethical conduct. While still at early stages, the trainees have demonstrated the program's strengths through their research papers, grants and awards, and attainment of university research positions. This proposal seeks to continue and expand the training program, to be taught by a diverse 30 member faculty. We propose to support 7 postdoctoral positions, offering each trainee two years of training that will foster their disciplinary and interdisciplinary research development focused on autism through a combination of individual training plan design, didactic training, primary and secondary mentorship, and participation in disciplinary and interdisciplinary research activities with mentoring faculty members.
Collaborative research between behavioral and biological scientists is essential to understanding autism, the links between biology, environment and behavior, and the development of translational strategies for preventing, ameliorating, or resolving the disabling symptoms of autism. This training program is designed to train future autism scientists who can converse with colleagues at multiple levels of analsysis.
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