Hedge-fund manager Dr. James Simons has become greatly successful by using sophisticated arithmetic to comprehend and interpret complex financial markets. A former mathematics professor, he also recognizes the impact that math can have on the understanding of many of life’s most harrowing problems, including health and disease. Confident that the mathematical approach Dr. Michael Wigler is taking at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to uncover the genetics of autism will be similarly successful, Dr. Simons and his wife Marilyn – through the Simons Foundation – are donating $11 million to support his research over the next three years.
“ Autism is an increasingly prevalent problem whose cause has been clearly determined to be genetically rooted,” Dr. Simons said. “Given the promising and highly innovative gene-finding technology Mike Wigler and his associates have developed at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, we believe that these scientists are perfectly positioned to make ground-breaking progress in determining the basis of this serious, life-term disorder."
“ Our technology was developed to understand the genetics that underlie cancer,” Dr. Wigler said. “Now, thanks to the generous support of Jim and Marilyn, we are also applying these tools to rapidly look for disease genes in autism. We hope through our research to find the roots of this disease, which are not well known at this time.”
Working with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory colleague Dr. Jonathan Sebat, Dr. Wigler’s approach will scan the genomes of children with autism (and their parents and siblings). Using algorithms and statistical techniques they then compare the children’s DNA to each other, their parents and normal controls searching for common genetic abnormalities. This technique is much more productive and efficient than the alternative classical genetics single gene approach of studying one gene at a time in diseases that are triggered by DNA deletions or duplications.
“Getting to the essence of autism quickly requires big science and advanced technology which is very costly. We are fortunate to have the ability, thanks to the Simons Foundation, to attack autism full-throttle,” added Jim Watson, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Chancellor and Nobel laureate.
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is a private, non-profit education and research institution. Under the leadership of Dr. Bruce Stillman, more than 330 scientists at the Laboratory conduct groundbreaking research in cancer, neurobiology, plant genetics and bioinformatics. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory also has innovative education programs for active scientists, graduate students and for high school education in biology.
The Simons Foundation is a private family foundation based in New York City. The primary mission is to fund advanced research in science and mathematics. A secondary mission is to help children with learning differences. Bridging these two areas, the Simons Foundation has embarked on a major initiative supporting research into autism and its treatment.
For more information, visit www.cshl.edu.