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Scripps Research Scientist Awarded Pre-doctoral Fellowship from Autism Speaks Foundation

Fellowship Will Fund Study of Neuron Development in Genetic Form of the Disease

LA JOLLA, CA, July 14, 2011 – Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy group, has awarded a two-year Dennis Weatherstone Pre-Doctoral Fellowship to Kristopher Nazor of The Scripps Research Institute.

Nazor is one of eight fellows selected from a field of 50 highly qualified candidates. Projects were chosen for funding based on the strengths of the training plan, research strategy, mentor's qualifications, and the relevance of the topic to Autism Speaks' research priority areas.

Nazor, who joined the Scripps Research Kellogg School of Science and Technology in 2008, is working toward his PhD degree under Professor Jeanne Loring, an authority in the emerging field of stem cell research.

“We’re very excited about Kit’s study because it will give us ideas about new ways to treat autism syndrome disorders,” Loring said. “He will be using pluripotent stem cell technology to understand how neural development is affected in a genetic form of autism, Fragile X Syndrome.” 

Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate and develop social relationships. According to Autism Speaks, autism disorders are diagnosed in one in 110 children in the United States, and one in 70 boys.

Autism Speaks established the Weatherstone Fellowships in 2008, thanks to a multi-year grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, to encourage the most promising young scientists to establish autism research as their chosen career path and support the growth of a promising cadre of young autism scientists. The fellowships are named in honor of former J.P. Morgan CEO Sir Dennis Weatherstone.

“I want to thank both Austism Speaks and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation for their generosity,” Nazor said. “With their help, we will be using a systematic, data-intensive approach to identify the molecular aberrations that occur not only in Fragile X neurons themselves, but also in the precursor cells that give rise to these neurons. This will allow us to compare autism-affected and normal neuro-developmental processes, and, hopefully, to better understand what leads to the onset of this devastating disease.”

In 2009, Nazor was part of a Scripps Research team that successfully reprogrammed skin cells from adult mice to perform like embryonic stem cells, the basic cells from which all others develop, without using embryonic stem cells or cloning techniques that require eggs. The milestone research, which was published in the prestigious journal Nature, has opened the door to the development of novel therapeutic approaches, such as using a patient's own cells to grow replacement organs.

About The Scripps Research Institute

The Scripps Research Institute is one of the world's largest independent, non-profit biomedical research organizations. Scripps Research is internationally recognized for its discoveries in immunology, molecular and cellular biology, chemistry, neuroscience, and vaccine development, as well as for its insights into autoimmune, cardiovascular, and infectious disease. Headquartered in La Jolla, California, the institute also includes a campus in Jupiter, Florida, where scientists focus on drug discovery and technology development in addition to basic biomedical science. Scripps Research currently employs about 3,000 scientists, staff, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students on its two campuses. The institute's graduate program, which awards Ph.D. degrees in biology and chemistry, is ranked among the top ten such programs in the nation. For more information, see www.scripps.edu.

About Autism Speaks

Autism Speaks is North America's largest autism science and advocacy organization. Since its inception in 2005, Autism Speaks has made enormous strides, committing more than $160 million to research and developing innovative new resources for families. The organization is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.

Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright of Palm Beach County, FL, the grandparents of a child with autism. In 2008, the Wrights were named to the Time 100 Heroes and Pioneers category, a list of the most influential people in the world, for their commitment to global autism advocacy.

To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.

About the Stavros Niarchos Foundation

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation is a major international philanthropic organization established by the family of the late Stavros Niarchos. Mr. Niarchos, born and raised in Greece, was best known for his successful ship building and shipping enterprises, although he was active in a wide range of business activities. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, founded in 1996, supports charitable activities in four primary areas: arts and culture; education; health and medicine; and social welfare. Special attention is given to programs for children and the elderly. Since its inception, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation has provided total grant commitments of $1,165,000,000 through more than 1,800 grants to not-for-profit organizations in 90 nations around the world. To learn more about the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, please visit www.snf.org.

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