Harvard has received a $20 million gift from philanthropists Lisa Yang and Hock Tan, M.B.A. ’79, to establish the Hock E. Tan and K. Lisa Yang Center for Autism Research at Harvard Medical School.

“There is an urgent need to understand the fundamental biology of autism,” said Michael Greenberg, chair of the department of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School and the center’s inaugural faculty leader. Greenberg continues:

“I strongly believe that the multidisciplinary expertise convened by this center will propel us into a new era of autism research, enhancing our understanding of the condition and yielding critical new insights into its causes. Greenberg closes with “This generous gift will be transformative for the field.”

Autism spectrum disorder is neuro-developmental condition that typically emerges in the first few years of life. It are marked by a cluster of symptoms, impaired social interactions, and compromised communication skills. Yet exactly what portion of these cases are strictly rooted in genetic mutations and how they are influenced by environmental factors is an area of lingering uncertainty.

Another key area for exploration is how much of autism’s fundamental features arise in the brain and what role organs and systems outside of the brain might play. Two of the new center’s initial areas of inquiry will address these critical gaps in knowledge.

“Neuroscience has reached a unique inflection point. Advances such as single-cell analysis and optogenetics, coupled with an unprecedented ability to visualize molecular shifts down to the minutest level, will enable today’s researchers to tackle a disorder as dauntingly complex as autism,” said Harvard Medical School Dean George Q. Daley.

This new research center at Harvard gives individuals affected with Autism spectrum disorder a new glimmer of hope for the future of autism research and medicine.

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