Autism 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.”
Hock Tan, M.B.A. ’79, (pictured) and K. Lisa Yang (center) have given a $20 million gift to establish The Hock E. Tan and K. Lisa Yang Center for Autism Research at Harvard Medical School. With Yang are Professor Mike Greenberg (left) and HMS Dean George Daley. Courtesy of Hock Tan; Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer