Autism institute announces inaugural director

Nelson Carbonell, the chairman of the Board of Trustees, and his wife have a son with autism. They donated $2.5 million to fund the director position. Hatchet file photo.
Nelson Carbonell, the chairman of the Board of Trustees, and his wife have a son with autism. They donated $2.5 million to fund the director position. Hatchet file photo.
A researcher with 15 years of experience will lead GW’s autism institute, the University announced today.

Kevin Pelphrey was named the inaugural director of the Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute, according to a press release. Pelphrey, who specializes in cognitive neuroscience and developmental disorders, will start at GW April 1.

The Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute was created in 2010 and is one of five new research institutes that have launched since 2009. The institute will be housed on GW’s Virginia Science and Technology Campus.

Pelphrey was the founding director of Yale University’s Center for Translational Developmental Neuroscience. He will bring $20 million in seven active grants that he currently holds with the National Institutes of Health and the Simons Foundation according to the release.

The institute will work with the Children’s National Medical Center and focus on adults with autism.

“Autism is a lifelong diagnosis but is so rarely researched past childhood,” Pelphrey said in the release. “The Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute provides the opportunity for us to take a lifespan perspective and consider the disorder from molecules to minds, looking at everything from the chemical makeup of the disorder to how it manifests in people’s behaviors.”

GW is investing more than $5 million to establish the institute as a leader in autism research. Pelphrey will soon be tasked with hiring five new faculty members and administrative staff, according to the release.

The institute began their search for a director in 2014. Leo Chalupa, the vice president for research, said they were looking for a candidate who is a leader in the field and would bring established research funding.

“Dr. Pelphrey’s experience as a psychologist, neuroscientist and parent of a child with autism makes him the ideal person to lead the Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute,” Chalupa said in the release. “I am confident that he will build the institute into a top-tier resource for individuals with autism and their families.”

Nelson Carbonell, the chairman of the Board of Trustees, and his wife have a son with autism and donated $2.5 million to help fund the director’s position. He said that they hope expanded research at GW will help the cause.

“Dr. Pelphrey will be a catalyst to bring in more resources to help autistic children and adults,” Carbonell said in the release. “Right now, there aren’t enough programs, policies or strategies for adults and teens with autism transitioning to adulthood, but the Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute, under the leadership of Dr. Pelphrey, has the real potential to change that.”

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