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SCRIPPS FLORIDA RESEARCHERS WIN $3.6 MILLION NIH GRANT TO STUDY AUTISM

JUPITER — Scripps Florida researcher Gavin Rumbaugh won a five-year, $3.6 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to continue studies of abnormal brain circuitry in autism, the nonprofit lab said Tuesday.

The grant builds on Rumbaugh’s previous work, research that found a crucial period in brain development during which Syngap1 — a gene that plays a role in autism and intellectual disability — must work properly.

With the new money, Rumbaugh will focus on how Syngap1 regulates developmental processes that link sensory processing to learning, and how harmful Syngap1 mutations can lead to autism-associated behavioral changes.

Rumbaugh’s team includes his wife, Scripps Florida Associate Professor Courtney Miller, and Jason Christie, a researcher at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience in Jupiter.

“This project reflects the growing need for researchers with diverse expertise to collaborate in order to solve important problems in neuroscience,” Rumbaugh said in a statement.

Rumbaugh’s research is part of a broader effort to pinpoint the genetic roots of autism.

“We don’t know what causes autism,” said Marlene Sotelo, director of programs and operations at the Els for Autism Foundation in Jupiter. “The more money that’s being funneled into genetic research, the closer we are to finding answers.”

Autism is a developmental disorder that often appears in the first three years of life. Autism spectrum disorder affects the brain’s ability to develop normal social and communication skills.

The cause of autism is unknown, but genes may be involved, the National Institutes of Health says.

Other causes have been suspected, but not proven. Some scientists believe that damage to a part of the brain, called the amygdala, may be involved. Others are studying whether a virus may trigger symptoms.

Theories about vaccine causing autism have been disproven, NIH says.