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Harvard to launch center for autism research

first_imgAutism and related disorders — a constellation of neurodevelopmental conditions affecting one in 59 children in the U.S. alone — have joined the ranks of modern medicine’s most confounding mysteries. The conditions are believed to arise from the complex interplay between genes and environment, yet their basic biology remains largely a black box.Now, a new research effort at Harvard University led by Harvard Medical School (HMS) is poised to identify the biologic roots and molecular changes that give rise to autism-related disorders with the goal of informing the development of better diagnostic tools and new therapies.Harvard has received a $20 million gift from philanthropists Lisa Yang and Hock Tan, M.B.A. ’79, to establish the Hock E. Tan and K. Lisa Yang Center for Autism Research at Harvard Medical School. The latest gift brings the total autism-related research funding Yang and Tan have provided to nearly $70 million.The center will serve as the hub that brings together the diverse expertise of scientists and clinicians working throughout Harvard University, HMS, and the Harvard-affiliated hospitals.“There is an urgent need to understand the fundamental biology of autism,” said Michael Greenberg, chair of the department of neurobiology at HMS and the center’s inaugural faculty leader. “I strongly believe that the multidisciplinary expertise convened by this center will propel us into a new era of autism research, enhancing our understanding of the condition and yielding critical new insights into its causes. This generous gift will be transformative for the field.”,Under the premise that autism’s complexity demands the cross-pollination of knowledge across different modes of scientific inquiry, the center will encompass the efforts of basic, translational, and clinical scientists from the entire Harvard ecosystem. The center will have its administrative home within the Harvard Brain Science Initiative, which brings together researchers from HMS and its affiliated hospitals, as well as from the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering.“Neuroscience has reached a unique inflection point. Advances such as single-cell analysis and optogenetics, coupled with an unprecedented ability to visualize molecular mechanisms down to the minutest level, will enable today’s researchers to tackle a disorder as dauntingly complex as autism,” said Harvard Medical School Dean George Q. Daley.“Medical history has taught us that truly transformative therapies flow only from a clear understanding of the fundamental biology that underlies a condition,” Daley added. “This gift will allow our researchers to generate critical insights about autism and related disorders.”Investigators at the new Harvard center will collaborate with peer researchers at MIT and complement efforts already underway at the Hock E. Tan and K. Lisa Yang Center for Autism Research at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, with the strengths of each institution converging toward a shared goal: understanding the roots of autism, explaining the condition’s behavior and evolution, and translating those insights into novel approaches to treat its symptoms.“In a short time, the Tan-Yang Center at the McGovern Institute has supported groundbreaking research we believe will change our understanding of autism,” said Robert Desimone, the director of the center at MIT. “We look forward to joining forces with the new center at Harvard, to greatly accelerate the pace of autism-related research.”“We are excited and hopeful that these sibling centers at Harvard and MIT — two powerhouses of biomedical research — will continue to collaborate in a synergistic way and bring about critical new insights to our understanding of autism,” Yang said.Yang is a former investment banker who has devoted much of her time to mental health advocacy. Tan is CEO of Broadcom, a global infrastructure technology company.Autism-spectrum disorders are neurodevelopmental conditions that typically emerge in the first few years of life. They are marked by a cluster of symptoms, impaired social interactions, and compromised communication skills. Yet exactly what portion of these cases are strictly rooted in genetic mutations and how they are influenced by environmental factors is an area of lingering uncertainty. Another key area for exploration is how much of autism’s fundamental features arise in the brain and what role organs and systems outside of the brain might play.Two of the new center’s initial areas of inquiry will address these critical gaps in knowledge.One group of researchers will focus on understanding precisely what goes awry during critical windows in the first two years of life — a period marked by rapid brain development, great neuroplasticity, and intense wiring of the brain’s circuits. This is also the typical window of autism diagnosis. The scientists will try to understand what molecular, cellular, or neural-circuitry changes underlie autism-fueling processes during this stage. Identifying such critical changes can help illuminate how experiences modulate brain development in individuals with autism.Another group of researchers will examine the role of factors arising from organs and organ systems outside the brain that may drive autism risk. For example, the peripheral nervous system — made up of nerve cells throughout the body that act as nodes that collect and transmit signals to the brain — has emerged as a central player in the development of autism.Heightened sensitivity to even light touch is a common feature in autism and one of the disorder’s many perplexing symptoms. Recent research from neurobiologists and geneticists at HMS has not only identified the molecular changes that give rise to heightened touch sensitivity in autism-spectrum disorders, but also points to a possible treatment for the condition.last_img read more

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Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Dale Ousted Amid Politically Motivated Arrest Probe

first_imgSign up for our COVID-19 newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest coronavirus news throughout New York Thomas Dale was ousted as Nassau County Police Commissioner following an investigation into a politically-motivated arrest. (Angela Datre/Long Island Press)Nassau County Police Department’s top cop resigned Thursday following an investigation by the county district attorney’s office into allegations of a politically-motivated arrest during campaign season involving the race for the county executive’s seat, officials said.Police Commissioner Thomas Dale’s sudden resignation came after Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice sent a letter to County Executive Ed Mangano citing “questionable influence” within the department, Mangano said in a statement. Dale, who was appointed by Mangano to police commissioner nearly two years ago, tendered his resignation after meeting with Mangano on Thursday.“District Attorney Rice today brought a troubling matter to my attention regarding questionable influence within the Nassau County Police Department,” Mangano said. “Upon further investigation, the District Attorney found no evidence to indicate criminality but the investigation itself indicates a fresh look at internal procedures is warranted.”Mangano’s Deputy County Executive for Public Safety Victor Politi was named acting-police commissioner in Dale’s place.Another top NCPD official, Chief of Detectives John Capese, has since retired and has been replaced by Narcotics Vice Squad Inspector Kevin Smith, Mangano said.The incident sparking the shakeup involves the arrest of Roosevelt resident Randy White, who testified in a civil proceeding that former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick’s county executive campaign on the upstart third-party We Count line paid White to gather nomination signatures using a pay-per-signature formula, in violation of New York State election law. Hardwick has denied paying for signatures.Days after White testified, Hardwick’s attorney unsuccessfully tried to introduce an audiotape of White allegedly saying that he had been paid hourly in an attempt to discredit the witness. Gary Melius, the owner of Oheka castle in Huntington who donated $23,000 to Hardwick’s campaign, then called Dale to request a perjury charge be filed against White, according to Rice.Dale ordered Capece and a police department attorney to meet Hardwick’s attorney and campaign staff at the First Precinct station house, where Dale told Hardwick’s staff to file the complaint based on the audiotape, but investigators found the tape to be inaudible and declined to file charges against White, according to Rice.But, police did learn at the time that White had an outstanding warrant for failing to pay a $250 fine for a misdemeanor counterfeiting conviction, which prompted Dale to order White’s arrest, according to Rice. Nassau police detectives arrested White on Oct. 5 after pulling over a public bus he was riding, according to Rice.While White was being processed at police headquarters in Mineola, off-duty Nassau police Sgt. Sal Mistretta served White with a civil subpoena drafted by Hardwick’s attorney ordering White to appear in court for the election case the following Monday, according to Rice.Rice, a Democrat, said that she had no reason to believe that Mangano, a Republican, had prior knowledge of the incident, which she termed “inappropriate.” She also said Dale had no prior knowledge and that the commissioner’s involvement does not constitute criminal conduct. But, she added, the investigation is continuing into Mistretta, who also recently retired.“We’re shocked by these events,” said Mike Florio, spokesman for Democratic minority in the Nassau County Legislature. “And these are serious allegations. This is a serious action. Dale deserves to be fired for this kind of misconduct. It’s a complete abuse of his power.”James Carver, president of the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents the department’s rank-and-file, said the move should not reflect badly on the rest of the police officers.“Commissioners come and go,” Carver said. “The one constant is the great work that the men and women do on the street protecting the citizens of Nassau County.”Dale’s firing comes a month after Mangano fired County Attorney John Ciampoli and less than a year after a ex-Second Deputy Nassau Police Commissioner William Flanagan was convicted of misconduct for quashing his friend’s son’s burglary arrest. Flanagan is appealing that conviction.Police declined to comment. Hardwick did not return a call.last_img read more

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