The Autism Scholars Award celebrates researchers who are working to shape novel treatments and services for children with autism. The award supports innovators who are working on new discoveries that can have a positive impact in the field of autism and for families across Ontario.
This year’s recipients, Felipe Morgado, MD/PhD student at the University of Toronto and Amanda Jass, Masters student at York University, were awarded for their research into better understanding the brain functionality of children who have autism and how these discoveries might impact future treatments.
Morgado, this year’s recipient of the $20,000 Doctoral Award is researching how the connections of the brain differ in people with autism spectrum disorder. His research aims to demonstrate how localized treatments that modulate brain activity to specific regions in the brain may potentially help provide symptom relief and marked improvements to quality of life.
Jass, this year’s recipient of the $18,000 Masters Award is examining how the brain is capable of changing over the course of child’s development to better understand autism at the cellular level. Her goal is to provide insights that aid in the development of brain plasticity-based activities and therapies to support new treatments that will help families in the future.
The Autism Scholars Award recognizes outstanding researchers and support new discoveries, treatments and contributions to autism in Ontario.
The Autism Scholars Awards Program was established with the support of the Ministry of Colleges and Universities to ensure that Ontario continues to promote leading-edge scholarship into autism, which affects one in 66 Canadian children, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
For more information on how the awards are administered, click here.
To learn about last year’s winners, click here.
Felipe Morgado’s research project aims to demonstrate how connections in the brain differ in people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), not only to improve the understanding of how the brains of ASD patients process information, but with the goal of informing novel treatments that will bring symptom relief and marked improvements to quality of life.
This study will explore the cerebellum, a brain region that plays a major role in sensory processing in developing brains, by comparing the brain scans from mice with ASD-linked mutations, to the brain scans from children with ASD to identify the same altered circuits as in the mice model.
By applying insights from his neuroscience and clinical background, his research aims to demonstrate that ASD symptoms may potentially be treated in a targeted manner by modulating brain activity to specific regions of the cerebellum and to serve his patients in novel and impactful way.
Felipe holds a Bachelor’s degree in biophysics and a Master’s thesis in pulmonary function imaging for children with cystic fibrosis, and is pursuing his PhD in neuroscience as an MD/PhD student at the University of Toronto.
Felipe’s motivation to focus on autism spectrum disorder comes from his upbringing as the son of an educational aide for primary school children with ASD.
In addition to his research, Felipe is the co-founder of a national advocacy group for integrating education on artificial intelligence into medical school curricula (AI in Medicine Student Society).
Amanda Jass’ research project aims to determine how changes between brain neuron connections (synaptic plasticity) is altered in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) over the course of a child’s development, to better understand autism at the cellular level, and provide insights to aid in the development of plasticity-based therapeutics.
Through investigating whether connections between neurons (synapses) can be manipulated to alleviate ASD symptoms, Jass’ will focus on demonstrating that “synapses” can be strengthened or weakened by different mechanisms, referred to collectively as “synaptic plasticity.”
Since it is well known that ASD is marked by imbalances of synaptic composition, and learning and memory deficits are common in ASD as well, it appears that there may be a lack of coordination between different types of brain plasticity. This research has the potential to lead to improvements in learning and memory as well as serving as functional biomarkers better diagnosis and assessment of ASD.
These learnings can lead to new medications as well as therapies that can enhance educational programs, activities and techniques geared towards strengthening the brain synapses. Some of the therapies include sleep scheduling, sensory modulation, and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) therapy. Through her research, Jass hopes to discover new ways to improve quality of life for people with autism.
Amanda Jass is a Master’s student in biology at York University. She completed her undergraduate studies at the same institution, with a focus on biological sciences and psychology.
Her diverse interests in physiology, psychology, cellular biology, and the brain, led her to pursue masters-level research in neuroscience. She also enjoys working with individuals with ASD, serving as a mentor for children with autism through the Jake’s House Legends Mentoring Program.