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Awards to support early career researchers in autism

September 14, 2017
by Rachel Horsting

Ellen Hoffman, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor at the Yale Child Study Center, and Rebecca Muhle, MD, PhD, an Instructor and researcher at the Yale Child Study Center, each received $100,000 from the Ruth Yorkin Drazen, Myron Drazen, and Frederick Frank Awards, to support their early career research on the genetic mechanisms of autism.

The awards come from the remaining assets of the National Genetics Foundation, which was co-founded by Ruth Yorkin Drazen in the 1980s to support the study the genetic bases of disease after she lost a child to a rare, genetic, neuromuscular disorder. Her son, Myron Drazen, and lifelong friends and fellow board members on the NGF, Mary Tanner and Frederick Frank, Yale ’54, wanted the remaining assets of the foundation to go where they would have maximum impact in an area important to Drazen.

Both Frank and Tanner have served Yale in many capacities, as an alumnus and as parents of an undergraduate, so it was natural to look for researchers at Yale. “This is as perfect a fit as anyone could possibly have hoped for,” says Frank, after speaking warmly about Drazen’s life of scientific philanthropy. “She was a lady of passion, and autism is consistent with the original mission.”

Hoffman and Muhle use different methods to study regulatory gene networks involved in autism, to better understand how different sets of genes affect development. Hoffman uses zebrafish, and Muhle uses human cells.

Investing in up-and-coming scientists has a huge impact, Muhle points out, because the grants allow researchers to do the work that earns large federal grants.

Both Muhle and Hoffman are honored to have their work recognized so early in their independent careers. “At the early stages, you really need support, especially for basic work,” says Hoffman. “It will allow me to get very exciting projects off the ground.”

Submitted by Rachel Horsting on September 14, 2017