Progress on Autism Research Highlights Board of Trustees Meeting

Kevin Pelphrey, director of the Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute, told the board that GW has carved out its niche in autism, establishing an interdisciplinary and comprehensive institute.

Kevin Pelphrey
Kevin Pelphrey, director of the Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute, addresses the board on Friday. Dr. Pelphrey said his institute's three pillars are research, clinical care and policy and communications. (William Atkins/GW Today)
February 10, 2017

By Kurtis Hiatt

The George Washington University is on its way to building one of the strongest autism institutes in the country, Kevin Pelphrey, the director of the Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute, told the Board of Trustees at its meeting on Friday.

“We have all the elements to do that,” Dr. Pelphrey said, outlining the institute’s three pillars—research, clinical care and policy and communications—and describing its focus in particular on women and girls with autism and young people transitioning to adulthood.

In its research, the institute is focused on every aspect of the individual—“from molecules to the mind” to social networks and community factors—and taking deep dives into studying these areas. Researchers are studying gene expression and brain images to understand how the different treatments they’re applying affect different individuals.

The goal, he said, is finding out what works, for whom and when. Treating autism takes time and money—so making sure the right individual is paired with the right treatment at the right time is critical.

Dr. Pelphrey and his team will bring this personalized approach to clinical care to a new facility at the Virginia Science and Technology Campus, which he expects to open later this year. The center will offer families evidence-based treatments, and researchers will use the information they glean to inform further research, he said.

The institute also is making a name for itself among the broader public—as with a recent op-ed in Wired—with an eye toward affecting policy decisions and bringing more attention to a disorder that currently affects 1 in 68 school-aged children in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Even as a relatively nascent institute—it’s not yet even a year old—Dr. Pelphrey said he and his team are making quick progress; the institute is already part of the elite group of National Institutes of Health’s Autism Centers of Excellence.

“They are the who’s who of the autism world, and now we’re in that group,” Dr. Pelphrey said, adding that GW’s institute serves as the lead site for studying girls with autism.

Dr. Pelphrey and his team also continue to forge new partnerships, publish research and apply for new grants.

Board of Trustees Chair Nelson Carbonell provided a recap of the presidential search and selection as well as the trustees' dinner with students on Thursday. (William Atkins/GW Today)

Also on Friday:

  • Board of Trustees Chair Nelson Carbonell said board members enjoyed dinner with some “fantastic and engaged” GW students on Thursday. Mr. Carbonell also thanked those involved in the presidential search process, and said he is excited to continue the final push to the $1 billion Making History campaign goal. It currently stands at $968 million.
  • President Steven Knapp told board members students continue to be politically engaged. The university recently has hosted four town halls on various political issues and celebrated the one-year anniversary of full operation of its Capital Partners Solar Project while adding District House to its list of LEED-certified buildings. Dr. Knapp also said he has several national and international trips planned to connect with alumni and prospective donors before his tenure ends in July.
  • Student Association (SA) President Erika Feinman updated board members on its initial research regarding student representation on university boards and said the SA was excited about recent successes with expanding a fund for travel reimbursement for students with unpaid internships and launching GW Listens. Feinman said affordability remains a priority for students, and they spoke recently with incoming President Thomas LeBlanc about this as well as community building.
  • Charles Garris, chair of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, praised the board for an inclusive search for the next GW president and said the Faculty Senate supports the university’s principles of support for undocumented students.
  • Later, in closed session, the board approved tuition rates for the 2017-18 academic year, maintaining the university's fixed tuition policy. 

Students had the opportunity to meet and talk with trustees on Thursday. (Harrison Jones/GW Today)



Kevin Pelphrey Installed as Carbonell Family Professor in Autism

October 31, 2016
The position was created through a $2.5 million gift from the Nelson A. and Michele Carbonell Family Foundation.

Researchers Identify New Way to Measure Autism in Boys

April 20, 2016
Approach suggests brain Imaging can enhance diagnosis and improve treatment.

George Washington University Names Director of Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute

February 03, 2016
Kevin Pelphrey, a global leader in autism research, and $5 million investment will transform GW into a top research and treatment center for adolescents and young adults with autism.

$2.5 Million Gift to Fund the Inaugural Director of Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Initiative

April 23, 2014
With a gift from the Nelson A. and Michele Carbonell Family Foundation, the university will recruit a leader with a cross-disciplinary perspective in the field.