UVA researchers using grant to develop new test for autism

Researchers at the University of Virginia are working on a way to test for autism when a baby is born.
Updated: Feb. 11, 2020 at 1:59 PM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Researchers at the University of Virginia are working on a way to test for autism when a baby is born. They’re able to do it because of a grant from the UVA Alumni Association.

There are 14 projects that have been chosen this year to get money from the Jefferson Trust Grant. One of those is autism testing with more than $120,000 to help get it done.

Meghan Puglia is an assistant professor of neurology. She and several other researchers are going to try to find out what markers there are in DNA that could indicate a child has autism. The research will especially narrow in on premature babies, because they have a higher chance of having autism.

Puglia hopes to develop a test that would let doctors know a child has autism right after they are born.

“The reason we don't screen for that is because we don't have a marker yet. So hopefully this research will help us identify markers that we can then create a very easy, fast, cheap, effective method to look at every single newborn and start them with earlier intervention very very early in life,” she said.

Some of the other projects getting money from the Jefferson Trust Grant will perform a "deaf opera" workshop, and work to address the achievement gap in a Charlottesville elementary school.

02/10/2020 Release from Jefferson Trust:

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA (February 10, 2020) – The Jefferson Trust, since 2005 a seed funder of some of the University of Virginia’s most innovative projects, has announced the recipients of its 2019-2020 annual grants cycle:

Transformative Autism Biomarker Research Initiative: $122,928 - A multidisciplinary group of researchers and clinicians is developing a newborn screening protocol to identify abnormal neurodevelopment before clinical symptoms manifest. In the face of steeply rising autism rates, early intervenion has the potential to drastically improve outcomes.

Guiding Student Research to Solve Global Problems in Air Pollution: $100,000 - In October 2018, the World Health Organization officially labeled air pollution “a silent public health emergency.” Through this initiative, students will gain familiarity with air-filtering technologies and will partner with faculty to study the impact of those technologies in the U.S. and several developing countries.

Creating Educational Citizen-Leaders Through Service Learning: $38,437In partnership with teachers at Charlottesville’s Greer Elementary School, UVA architecture and education students will employ problem-solving processes known as “design thinking” to address student achievement gaps at the elementary school.

Breaking the Sound Barrier: Deaf Opera Workshop: $32,000 - This performance project will unite the worlds of the deaf and the hearing. Deaf actors from Broadway will join opera singers to work on a new production of Poulenc’s iconic opera of religious persecution, “Dialogues of the Carmelites.” The UVA-based workshop will also be filmed for a documentary.

Cavalier Autonomous Racing: $50,000 - The Cavalier Autonomous Racing Club, under the supervision of UVA faculty, will build, develop, program and race an autonomous electric go-kart. Club activity will culminate in a demonstration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indy 500 race.

Community-Engaged Learning and Leadership Initiative at Madison House: $100,000 - A group of Madison House student leaders will enroll in courses focused on community-based learning and service projects, all while volunteering in the Charlottesville community. Madison House, UVA’s student volunteer center, will then pair interested UVA faculty and their class syllabi with community partners, for deeper community-based learning opportunities.

The Engaged Writing Project: Embedding Community Engagement Preparation Into UVA First Year Writing Courses: $100,000 - This project will embed public service competencies into first-year student writing requirement courses. Students will come to understand their development as writers in relation to central challenges of our time, from local to global.

Strategies of Collecting: Museum Seminar: $15,652 - An interdisciplinary group of UVA students will gain experience researching and proposing objects for acquisition by the Fralin Museum of Art, and will visit leading auction houses, art dealers and galleries in New York.

stARTup Studio: a Business Bootcamp for Creatives: $45,000 - This bootcamp will offer a full-day, interactive program for artists at the University and in the community—to help them increase the visibility of and market for their work.

Summer Program for Entrepreneurial Nanoscale Engineering: $100,000 - This summer internship experience is created for rising second- and third-year students interested in entrepreneurialism and nanoscale technologies. Interns will participate in research projects directed by UVA’s nanoSTAR faculty—the Institute for Nanoscale and Quantum Scientific and Technological Advanced Research.

Advancing Interdisciplinary Readiness: $96,000 - UVA’s Environmental Resilience Institute will generate training for graduate students and faculty interested in interdisciplinary research that can improve communities. Participants will gain the skills needed to lead collaborative projects that address rapid environmental change.

FLIP at UVA: $14,161 - The local chapter of FLIP Natioal (First-Generation, Low-Income Partnership) will align with various University departments to promote programming for and greater inclusivity of first-generation and/or low-income students.

APIDA Student Survey: $6,279 - The Asian Student Union will create a survey for all Asian-identifying students at the University of Virginia to ask about their UVA experience. This data will then be shared with University leadership to better address issues affecting this community.

The Sixth International Seminar of Young Tibetologists: $32,900 - This bilingual conference—offered in both English and Tibetan—will include presentations from early career scholars who are normally isolated from each other across linguistic barriers. The three disparate spheres of Tibetan Studies (Chinese, Tibetan and Euro-American) will interact as a single community.

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