KCART Discovery Grants

The Kansas Center for Autism Research and Training (K-CART), awarded its third annual pilot discovery grants in July 2010 to one University of Kansas and three University of Kansas Medical Center researchers. K-CART, launched in July 2008, is committed to supporting intramural pilot projects to attract researchers-especially younger scientists-and new collaborations between established investigators to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) investigation.

This is made possible by a combined KU/KUMC five-year $1 million contribution. Funding for pilot research is scarce but data from such studies is often critical to win external support from government and private funders. The award winners competed for the $25,000-$40,000 grants that recognize original empirical research that will advance scientific knowledge and contribute to the overall competitiveness of K-CART for external funding.

"K-CART is committed to the discovery of new information and dissemination to impact people with autism. The awardees exemplify collaboration among disciplines and across campuses to address the complexities and challenges in autism spectrum disorders," said Debra Kamps, K-CART director.

The 2010 awardees are:

KUMC: Juan Brusés, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of anatomy and cell biology, who will study the effect of cytokine levels, part of the immune system response, on the developing brain in a mouse model.

Winifred (Winnie) Dunn, Ph.D., OTR, FAOTA, professor and chairperson, occupational therapy education and Lisa Mische-Lawson, M.Ed., Ph.D, CTRS, research assistant professor, occupational therapy education, will test the effectiveness of a sensory processing intervention with children with ASD.

Rene Jamison, Ph.D., assistant clinical professor, will evaluate an intervention aimed at improving social communication in adolescent girls with ASD.

KU: Nancy Brady, assistant professor, speech-language-hearing, and Christa Anderson, Ph.D., research associate, will develop a nonverbal method to test language comprehension using eyetracking technology and eye movements.

The 2009 recipients were:

 Merlin Butler, professor of psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the KU Medical Center and Qian Li, research assistant professor of pharmacy and toxicology.

Butler and a multidisciplinary team is studying the immune profiles of children with ASD and, specifically, their cytokine levels.

Li's research is exploring whether or not epigenetic alterations and autistic-like behaviors caused by environmental factors early in life.

The 2008 awardees were:

Kathryn Ellerbeck and Jill Jacobson who are exploring the possible effects of hormones and the environmental toxin Bisphenol A on the expression of genes that may be related to autism. Ellerbeck is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at KU Medical Center's Center for Child Health and Development. Jacobson is a professor of pediatrics/endocrinology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine.

Cary Savage, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at KU Medical Center, Christa Anderson, doctoral student in cognitive psychology at KU, and John Colombo, professor of psychology and Life Span Institute director, are examining pupil and neural responses in children with autism spectrum disorder.

Kathy Thiemann-Bourque, assistant research professor, is studying how to increase communication of children with autism spectrum disorder with their typical peers through assistive communication devices.

Winifred Dunn, professor and chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy Education at KU Medical Center, is identifying and validating methods for behavioral assessment that reflect brain activity of individuals with autism spectrum disorder, focusing on sensory processing, temperament and brain activity.