The Virginia Tech Center for Autism Research was officially approved by the Office of the Vice President for Research in November as a center under the College of Science. Serving as the first director will be Angela Scarpa, an associate professor of psychology who was instrumental in the founding of an autism clinic at Virginia Tech in 2005.
Financial support for the center has come from the College of Science and the college's psychology department; the Fralin Life Science Institute; and the Institute for Society, Culture and Environment.
With the start of the center, Scarpa says she plans to create a collaborative environment for researchers from across Virginia Tech to apply their work to Autism Spectrum Disorder, a set of complex developmental conditions that affect communication, social interactions, and behavior across the lifespan. “We have people who want to be involved with this new venture,” Scarpa said. “There are researchers with bio-informatics, biomedical engineering, computer science, and a variety of other disciplines – all of whom are interested in applying their work to ASD. We have a great opportunity for collaborative research that will ultimately improve the futures of people with ASD through a richer understanding of these conditions.”
The center, initially, will focus on developing pilot work and gathering data with those who have higher-functioning ASD, specifically with young adults in the college population. The center will also form a central research database of individuals with ASD, spanning from childhood to adulthood, who may wish to be involved in future research. That information will help researchers develop preliminary projects for proposals to the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and other funding agencies.
Scarpa said there are “about 10 centers of excellence for autism research in the country right now. We believe we can take a place among them with a multi-disciplined approach that will allow us to take on challenges we wouldn’t be able to do separately.”
For more information about the center, call 540-231-2615 or email Scarpa.