Director’s message: Program updates

It seems like 2021 just got started, and here we are midway through April! Despite so many daunting challenges in our society that are not to be minimized, I feel like things are looking up and am optimistic that many well-intentioned people are willing to take on these challenges. For Autism BrainNet, we are thankful that 37 families in 2020 made the selfless decision to donate the brain of a family member to advance autism research. As laboratories around the world are beginning to reopen after the COVID-19 closures, we are experiencing an uptick in interest and applications for postmortem human brain tissue. While we make every effort to use each donation as efficiently as possible to serve as many research projects as possible, there will undoubtedly be an increased need for donations in the future. Our website provides useful information on the donation process and contact details to send us your questions.

In the past few newsletters, we have provided interviews with several members of the Autism BrainNet team. In this issue, we spoke with a mother who donated the brain of her daughter to the Autism Tissue Program (ATP), which was the predecessor to Autism BrainNet. All of the tissue donated to the ATP remains a portion of the Autism BrainNet collection and continues to be a valuable resource for investigators. We are grateful for and humbled by her testimony that celebrates her daughter’s life.

Finally, we are happy to announce that this year Autism BrainNet has initiated the Autism BrainNet Appreciation Award. This award acknowledges individuals who have contributed to the establishment of the program and have facilitated donations over the years since its inception.

The 2021 Autism BrainNet Appreciation Award recipients are:

  • Sally S. Aiken, M.D., Chief Medical Examiner, Spokane Co Medical Examiner’s Office
  • Elizabeth A. Bundock, M.D., Ph.D., Vermont’s Deputy Chief Medical Examiner
  • Gerald D. Fischbach, M.D., Distinguished Scientist and Fellow, Simons Foundation
  • Alycia Halladay, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer, Autism Science Foundation
  • Alison Singer, M.B.A., Co-Founder and President, Autism Science Foundation

We owe all of these individuals a debt of gratitude and provide these plaques as a small token of our appreciation. We plan to provide additional awards on an annual basis to those who contribute to the mission of Autism BrainNet.

As life is slowly going back to a sense of normalcy, I hope that you and your family are increasingly able to enjoy the simple pleasures of being together that we have all been missing due to the pandemic.

With best wishes,

David G. Amaral, Ph.D.
Scientific Director, Autism BrainNet