PHILADELPHIA-- Shinjae Chung, PhD, an assistant professor of Neuroscience in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, has been named a recipient of a 2017 Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award, which provides financial support for innovative, early-stage biomedical research with the potential to benefit children of the United States. The award provides funding for three years at $100,000 in direct costs per year for Chung's proposal entitled "Remedying Sleep Disturbances in Autism Spectrum Disorder."
Chung, who studies the neural circuits that underlie sleep, is one of only 12 researchers recognized nationwide this year as a Hartwell Investigator by The Hartwell Foundation.
Up to 80 percent of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or maintaining reasonable sleep duration. These problems, which are directly correlated with the severity of ASD, contribute to daytime sleepiness, anxiety, learning difficulties, hyperactivity, lack of concentration, and aggression. (When a child has difficulty sleeping, the sleep and quality of life of other family members are often also affected.) In ASD the causes of sleep disturbances are unclear. With support from the Hartwell Award, Chung will seek to uncover neural mechanisms underlying the link between sleep quality and ASD symptoms by using state-of-the-art neuroscience techniques combined with pharmacological approaches.
Specifically, she will examine how specific sleep-control neurons in the hypothalamus may contribute to sleep problems in a mouse model of autism. Conversely, neurons that promote wakefulness inhibit neurons that promote sleep. Chung will explore this relationship in cases of ASD, hoping to identify opportunities for eventual prevention and treatment of sleep problems.
"If Shinjae is successful in identifying the molecular and neural causes of sleep disturbances in ASD, translation of her research findings will make it possible to offer for the first time a therapeutic intervention for autism-related sleep disturbances, which will enhance the day-to-day functioning of affected children and their families, improving their quality of life," said Fred Dombrose, PhD, president of The Hartwell Foundation.
Each year The Hartwell Foundation invites a limited number of leading educational and research institutions in the United States to carry out an internal competition to nominate candidates from their faculty who meet the award's criteria. In 2017, 17 institutions were invited to participate. Based on the nominees submitted, the Foundation selected the top 12 researchers to receive a Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award.
In selecting awardees, the Foundation takes into account the compelling and transformative nature of the proposed innovation, the extent to which a strategic or translational approach might accelerate the clinical application of research results to benefit children of the United States, the extent of collaboration in the proposed research, the institutional commitment to provide encouragement and technical support to the investigator, and the extent to which funding the investigator will make a difference.
In addition to the individual Award to Chung, the University of Pennsylvania also receives funding for one postdoctoral fellowship that they designate to a scientist or engineer who has completed a Ph.D. or equivalent doctorate, who is still in the early stages of career development and exemplifies the values of the Foundation. Each Hartwell Fellowship provides $50,000 direct costs per year for two years to enable specialized training in biomedical research.
Chung has been first author of research published in such leading journals as Nature, Nature Neuroscience, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of Sciences.
She received her undergraduate degree in life sciences and biotechnology from Korea University in Seoul and her doctorate in pharmacology and developmental and cell biology from the University of California, Irvine. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Berkley.
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