NEWS | December 21, 2012

UC Davis MIND Institute studies among the world's best in 2012

Autism Speaks recognizes three MIND Institute investigations for research excellence


Three UC Davis MIND Institute research studies are included in the Top 10 Autism Research Achievements of 2012 as identified by Autism Speaks, the world’s largest autism advocacy and research organization.

UC Davis MIND Institute UC Davis MIND Institute

The studies span the fields of autism early intervention, epidemiology and toxicology, and translational medicine. The organization announced its Autism Speaks Top 10 Research Achievements of 2012 on its website.

"We are very proud of the recognition our scientists have earned from Autism Speaks,” said MIND Institute Director Leonard Abbeduto, Tsakopoulos-Vismara Endowed Chair in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “The studies cited are important because they advance our understanding of autism spectrum disorders while offering immediate benefit to families and society." 

The research includes an investigation by senior author Randi Hagerman, MIND Institute medical director and professor of pediatrics, which found that an investigational compound that targets the core symptoms of fragile X syndrome is effective for addressing the social withdrawal and challenging behaviors characteristic of the condition, making it the first such discovery for fragile X syndrome, and potentially, the first for autism. The study was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine in September 2012.

The research examined the effectiveness of the compound STX 209, also known by the name arbaclofen. It was conducted collaboratively with Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, and Seaside Therapeutics, a Cambridge, Mass., pharmaceutical company focused on translating bench research on fragile X and autism into therapeutic interventions.

Autism Speaks also acknowledged an autism early intervention study by MIND Institute scientist and Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Sally Rogers and colleagues, published in October 2012 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. The study found that the intervention, the Early Start Denver Model, is effective for improving cognition and language skills among very young children with autism, that it normalizes their brain activity, decreases their autism symptoms and improves their social skills. Conducted with Autism Speaks' Chief Science Officer Geraldine Dawson, the study is the first to demonstrate that an autism early intervention program can normalize brain activity. It also was named one of TIME magazine’s top 10 medical breakthroughs for 2012.

The third autism study recognized by the organization was published in July 2012 by MIND Institute researchers Isaac Pessah, professor of molecular biosciences and director of the Center for Children’s Environmental Health, and Irva Hertz-Picciotto, chief of the Division of Environmental and Occupational Health in the Department of Public Health Sciences. Led by doctoral student Janie Shelton, the study appeared in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. It strongly suggests that certain pesticides may increase the risk of autism.

“On the basis of experimental and observational research, certain pesticides may be capable of inducing core features of autism, but little is known about the timing or dose, or which of various mechanisms is sufficient to induce this condition,” the study found.

At the UC Davis MIND Institute, world-renowned scientists engage in collaborative, interdisciplinary research to find the causes of and develop treatments and cures for autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), fragile X syndrome, 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, Down syndrome and other neurodevelopmental disorders. For more information, visit