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A mission of generosity and hope for a cure

Learn more about the M.I.N.D. Institute

UC Davis M.I.N.D. InstituteThe M.I.N.D. (Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders) Institute is an international, multidisciplinary research organization, committed to excellence, collaboration and hope, striving to understand the causes and develop better treatments and ultimately cures for neurodevelopmental disorders. Standing shoulder to shoulder, families, scientists, physicians, educators, and administrators are working together to unlock the mysteries of the mind.

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Larry and Kim Cherniss have always believed in the importance of philanthropy, routinely donating to a variety of charities in their community. But when their son Ryan was diagnosed with autism at age 2, it crystallized the mission of their generosity.

The Chernisses, who live in San Jose, Calif., began to target their donations to institutions that support research into the causes and treatments for autism. That is what moved them to reach out to the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute in 2007 with an initial, unsolicited donation of $2,500. Subsequent donations would cement their relationship with the internation­ally renowned research institute, whose mission is discovering the origins and treatments for autism and other neurodevelop­mental disorders, such as fragile X syndrome and attention-deficit/hyperac­tivity disorder (ADHD).

“I had the privilege of meeting with Larry, Kim, Heather and Ryan at their home to thank them for their generosity,” said M.I.N.D. Institute Executive Director Robert Hendren. “It’s the commitment of families like the Chernisses to finding a cure for autism that inspires our researchers to redouble their efforts to understand this devastating condition.”

Dr. Hendren"It’s the commitment of families like the Chernisses to finding a cure for autism that inspires our researchers to redouble their efforts to understand this devastating condition."
— Robert Hendren

Autism is the fastest-growing neurodevelopmental disorder in the United States, affecting one in 150 children born today. There is no cure. The disorder is characterized by impaired communication skills, diffi­culties initiating and sustaining social interactions, and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.

“If there is going to be a cure for autism, we want to be a part of it,” said Larry Cherniss of his fam­ily’s decision to give to the M.I.N.D. Institute. “Now, I only give to autism.”

Cherniss family
Cherniss family: left to right, Heather, Larry, Kim and Ryan

Ryan Cherniss is now 4 years old, and his father said that he is making progress. He played the game “Candyland” from start to finish with his dad recently — for him a wonderful accomplishment. Progress for children with autism is often measured in such small successes. But Kim Cherniss said that she holds out great hope for the futures of children with autism like Ryan because of the research being conducted at the M.I.N.D. Institute and elsewhere.

“My hope is that one day in the not-so-distant future, pediatricians will tell families that their 2-year-old has autism and the parents will respond, 'Oh, thank goodness. We were afraid it was going to be something really bad.'”