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Three A.J. Drexel Autism Institute Research Projects Funded by Eagles Autism Challenge

Apr 04, 2019

Eagles Autism Challenge logo including Drexel University

In 2018, the Eagles Autism Challenge raised $2.5 million to fund research at three founding beneficiary institutions, including Drexel University's A.J. Drexel Autism Institute. On World Autism Day (April 2) the Eagles Autism Challenge announced eight projects to be funded after being evaluated by an independent scientific advisory board comprised of top autism researchers.

Of the eight total projects funded, three will be led by researchers from the Autism Institute:

Elizabeth Hassrick, PhD, an assistant professor with the Life Course Outcomes program in the Autism Institute, will use innovative social network science to investigate employment support for low-income and minority youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The project will measure the impact of collaboration among organizations that provided employment support for low-income and minority youth with ASD and their families in Philadelphia.

Hassrick's project is based on evidence that a majority of young adults with ASD are disconnected from opportunities for work or schooling in the first few years after high school.

Kristen Lyall, SCD, an assistant professor in the Modifiable Risk Factors program of the Autism Institute, will study maternal dietary patterns during pregnancy in association with autism and autism-related traits by considering overall diet patterns, with a particular focus on those related to inflammation, as well as combinations of specific nutrients.

Maternal diet during pregnancy is known to play a key role in brain development, and recent studies have found links between certain nutrients and risk of ASD and ASD-related traits. However, nutrients act in combination with biological processes, and existing research has not taken this into account. One biological pathway influenced by many nutrients, and with growing evidence for a role in ASD, is inflammation.

Giacomo Vivanti, PhD, an assistant professor in the Early Detection and Intervention program of the Autism Institute, will address the unmet needs of young children with ASD and their working families in underserved communities.

Evidence-based Early Intervention (EI) programs for children with ASD are scarce in low-resource areas. When they do exist, there are barriers to access, including distance, hours of operation and cost. Often, the combined challenges of finding EI programs, accommodating EI schedules and obtaining childcare services faced by families result in children not receiving the intervention they need and/or their parents withdrawing from the workforce.

The Eagles Autism Challenge, spearheaded by Philadelphia Eagles Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie, is the team's one-day cycling and 5K run/walk signature event that aims to fund innovative research and care, all with the goal of transforming lives of those affected by autism. To support the Autism Institute in the 2019 Eagles Autism Challenge on Saturday, May 18, join "Team Drexel" here