Researcher seeks to understand the brain mechanisms in neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorder

Researcher seeks to understand the brain mechanisms in neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorder

Early diagnosis of neurodevelopment disorders such as autism spectrum disorder is critical to determining effective therapies for a child, and to assure a higher quality of life.  But one thing that hinders early diagnosis is our lack of understanding of the biology of autism. 

That's one reason Matthew Mosconi focuses his research on understanding the development of behavioral and cognitive issues characteristic of autism spectrum disorder and specifically, identifying the brain mechanisms that lead to them. Additionally, his research examines brain-behavior links related to single gene conditions such as Fragile X Syndrome and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Mosconi is the director of the Kansas Center for Autism Research and Treatment (K-CART), and director of the Neurobehavioral Development Laboratory, both at the University of Kansas. In this interview, he looks back at his first four years with K-CART and shares his aspirations for autism research at KU.

How would you describe your experience at KU? 
A major appeal of KU was the great potential for collaborating with leading behavioral researchers interested in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and the strong reputation of the Life Span Institute for fostering collaborative and productive research. The reality has exceeded my expectations. People here are very eager to support each other’s work and identify collaborative opportunities. It is difficult to create and maintain an environment that actively promotes high impact research without making investigators compete with each other or experience a shark-tank type of environment – KU and the Life Span Institute have skillfully struck and maintained this balance.

What would you consider to be your biggest accomplishment at the Life Span Institute so far?
I am very proud to be part of multiple teams, including our autism center (K-CART) and my own lab, that have made significant progress towards establishing programs of research that engage families and the community as active participants in cutting-edge science. I know this sounds non-specific, but we have engaged numerous new families, individuals and community partners over the past few years. We also have created environments at the Wakarusa Research Facility and Edwards Campus that help individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders and their families feel welcome and comfortable as they engage in the research process, connect with the many resources available to support them, and then stay engaged with us as we march towards new discoveries. It has taken significant effort to build these relationships and infrastructure, and while we are not finished yet, I am proud of the significant progress we have made along these lines.   

What has been one of the most rewarding moments as a researcher?
Multiple trainees have graduated from the lab in my short time here, and they each are thriving in new faculty positions. That is awesome to see, and we have multiple very talented trainees at doctoral and postdoctoral levels that now are heading along equally promising trajectories.

What are your hopes for your future here at KU?
There are multiple long-term projects we are working on both within our autism center and within my lab. At a general level, we are hoping to build key supports that would provide important expertise for researchers at KU so that their studies can incorporate gold-standard assessment approaches and the most reliable and valid diagnostic procedures we have available. We also have multiple new ideas for helping active autism researchers at KU work even more efficiently with each other, and expanding our base. More specifically, we have combined some of the diverse expertise at KU and KUMC to help grow our training programs so that new, talented, junior investigators can rapidly develop their own independent research programs and expand our group’s reach and impact.