CHOP and Mt. Sinai Hospital Expand Partnership to Include Autism Research


A rainy April morning didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of a group of cross-disciplinary autism clinicians and researchers who convened at the New York Academy of Medicine for the first in a series of “meeting of the minds” between two of the country’s leading autism research centers- the Seaver Autism Center of Mount Sinai Hospital and the Center for Autism Research (CAR) at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The nearly fifty experts met to share the most recent developments in their work, with the shared goal of advancing the progress of science to discover the causes of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), identify the mechanisms underlying its signature symptoms, develop drug and behavioral therapies, and improve medical and legislative policies related to access to and delivery of services.

As an outgrowth of CHOP and Mount Sinai’s formal clinical alliance announced in 2015, this autism research collaboration between CAR and the Seaver Center is a move toward integrating the two health care networks’ significant research capital. Spearheaded by CAR’s scientific director, Robert Schultz, PhD, and the Seaver Center’s director, Joseph Buxbaum, PhD, the autism research partnership merges not only the expertise of CHOP and Mt. Sinai researchers, but the Icahn School of Medicine and the University of Pennsylvania as well.

In opening remarks, Dr. Schultz and Dr. Buxbaum referenced the numerous visits each has made to the other’s Center over the course of the last decade and were pleased that the official partnership between CHOP and Mount Sinai presented an opportunity to collaborate more closely on autism research.

“One of the hallmarks of autism- and the greatest challenge to autism researchers- is its heterogeneity. There are myriad combinations of genetic variants, brain changes, and behavioral outcomes that could present as autism spectrum disorder in any one individual- and that has slowed progress for devising new, effective interventions,” said Dr. Schultz. ” Breakthroughs will only come from being able to see the patterns of genetics, neurobiology, and behavior across a large group of individuals with autism and related conditions. A partnership between CAR and Seaver brings us much closer to achieving this.”

During the morning session of the symposium, each of the clinicians and researchers were asked to present an “Ignite” talk explaining a current project or body of work and its potential impact on the understanding of ASD or developing interventions. These abbreviated “TED”- style talks were intended to spark ideas for where researchers might join forces to apply novel research approaches or combine data sets for more robust research opportunities.

During the afternoon session, the attendees were challenged to form small groups based on these opportunities for connection, and develop a realistic proposal outline for a coveted NIH R01 grant. For the day’s final session, each group had to present their proposal to a mock-panel of NIH reviewers. Amidst a palpable sense of urgency and competition, the four teams did not disappoint.

“The plans that emerged from this exercise exceeded our expectations,” said Dr. Buxbaum.”In just a few hours, our clinical and research faculty identified several real targets for promising lines of research that could begin almost immediately. We each left feeling challenged and inspired by the rich partnership that began to take shape today.” 

The next joint research day is planned for the Fall in Philadelphia. Over the next six months, the investigators will continue to refine their mock proposals with the aim of turning them into funded collaborative research projects.