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Mind Institute Researcher Receives Grant To Study Gastrointestinal Ailments In Autism

Researcher Paul AshwoodA UC Davis MIND Institute researcher has been awarded a grant by Autism Speaks to investigate the digestive and intestinal problems often experienced by children with autism and that affect their ability to learn and communicate. Paul Ashwood, associate professor of medical microbiology and immunology in the UC Davis School of Medicine, has received a Suzanne and Bob Wright Trailblazer Award for $770,000 for research into the biological mechanisms that underlie gastrointestinal (GI) disorders in autism.

He will lead the research and collaborate with colleagues at the California Institute of Technology and the School of Medicine at the University of Maryland.

“This award provides us with a fantastic opportunity to delve deeper into the mechanisms that may underlie altered gastrointestinal dysfunction in some children with autism,” Ashwood said.

Many children with autism experience gastrointestinal symptoms such as irregular bowel movements and abdominal pain. The presence of gastrointestinal symptoms often is associated with increased irritability, tantrums, aggressive behavior and sleep disturbances. For these children and their families, rigorous studies of the relationship between gastrointestinal dysfunction and autism are a major unmet need.

“Gastrointestinal problems are a common and distressing concern for many children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders and their families,” said Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer for Autism Speaks. “Not only are these conditions a strain on the health of the children, but GI problems also can seriously interfere with their ability to participate in and benefit from activities of daily life, education and therapeutic activities.”

Autism Speaks is North America’s largest autism science and advocacy organization. Since its inception in 2005, the organization has committed over $160 million to research and developing innovative new resources for families. It was founded by Bob and Suzanne Wright. Bob Wright served as chief executive officer of NBC and NBC Universal for more than 20 years. The Wrights are the grandparents of a child with autism.

At the UC Davis MIND Institute, world-renowned scientists engage in research to find improved treatments as well as the causes and cures for autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, fragile X syndrome, Tourette syndrome and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Advances in neuroscience, molecular biology, genetics, pharmacology and behavioral sciences are making inroads into a better understanding of brain function. The UC Davis MIND Institute draws from these and other disciplines to conduct collaborative, multidisciplinary research. For more information, visit mindinstitute.ucdavis.edu.

Material adapted from UC Davis Healthsystem.

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