At the end of last year, College of Science approved the opening of the Center for Autism Research. The future studies conducted by Virginia Tech researchers will contribute to a national effort to improve those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD.
ASD describes any range of social disorders, including autism and Asperger syndrome. Associate Professor of psychology Angela Scarpa, and first director of the center, plans to focus specifically on college-aged young adults who function highly with ASD.
Scarpa was a key founder in the inception of Tech’s autism clinic eight years ago. Since 2005, she has been assisting the New River Valley ASD community with education and support groups. She now has high expectations for the relevance of the center on a national scope. The central research database of ASD individuals, ranging from childhood to adulthood, will take part in projects for the National Institutes of Health, among other funding agencies.
According to Scarpa, the new center could become the next of 10 other primary centers of autism research in the country. She believes that with the multi-faceted collaboration of scholars, they can make large waves in the field. It will be a long process, however.
"It will be awhile before we will rank," Scarpa said. "First, we need to establish our research groups, conduct pilot studies and obtain federal and foundation funding needed to conduct these critical studies."
Along with the College of Science and its psychology department, the Fralin Life Science Institute and the Institute for Society, Culture and Environment contributed to the financial upbringing of the center.
"Second, we need our work published and disseminated to the scientific community and to the public. Once we make some major contributions to the field, I hope we will have the honor of being part of that distinguished group," Scarpa said.
Researchers from other departments are enthusiastic about the center’s venture. Bio-informatics, biomedical engineering, and computer science were only some of the contributors’ backgrounds. Scarpa was more than willing to employ interdepartmental studies to achieve a ”richer understanding” of ASD.
The VTCAR will specializes in understanding autism in individuals in a variety of different age groups, ranging from emerging adulthood to later life.
"The needs of adults on the autism spectrum are little understood and represent a current gap in the field," Scarpa said.
In addition to studying areas such as genetics, neuroimaging, drug discovery and pathophysiology, the center will ultimately provide services such as therapy, consultation, and training in order to improve the lives of ASD individuals across the country.
An approximate date for the opening of the center has not yet been announced.
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