The Rutgers University Center for Autism Research, Education and Services (RUCARES) will hold its second annual conference tomorrow in the Busch Student Center, according to the event’s program.
The first conference, which was held last year, sought to bring together Rutgers community members interested in autism, including researchers, clinicians and individuals with autism, according to Brian Greer, the assistant director of RUCARES.
“RUCARES coordinates and fosters basic and clinical research focused on diagnosing and supporting individuals with autism,” he said. “The symposium supports this mission.”
He said the RUCARES conference will discuss clinical research and community-engagement initiatives regarding autism. Greer said the event will be similarly formatted to last year’s symposium, but he expects increased attendance.
Wayne Fisher, director of RUCARES, said the process of planning the conference began in the summer, and a planning committee met to deliberate the event’s date, venue and keynote speaker.
In early September, the event’s save the dates were sent out, along with requests for research abstracts, he said. Later in the month, registration for the event was opened.
Fisher said the conference will include seven presentations by Rutgers researchers, 30 autism research posters and keynote speaker Kristen Brennand, the Elizabeth Mears and House Jameson Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University.
Brennand, who started her research laboratory in 2012, said her work initially involved taking skin cells from individuals with and without schizophrenia and transforming them into brain cells for comparison.
Currently, her laboratory uses stem cell research and genomic engineering to analyze factors behind brain disease and then use these findings to create clinical work, she said.
Brennand said during the conference she will discuss using human-induced pluripotent stem cells and genetic engineering to better understand how disease risk variants within the brain interact with each other. She said that she hopes this keynote address will offer an opportunity to share her work with other researchers and patient advocates and that collaboration is important.
“All of our research is done in collaboration,” Brennand said. “Together we find ways to better tackle the toughest problems in biomedical research.”
She also said she recognized Rutgers as a leader in autism research, a sentiment echoed by Fisher. He said the University has a rich history of research, clinical work and training regarding autism. But Fisher said Rutgers’ autism initiatives are fairly decentralized and isolated from one another, which RUCARES aims to stop.
“The mission of RUCARES is to facilitate communication and collaboration amongst autism researchers, educators and clinicians at Rutgers to improve the lives of persons with autism and their families,” he said. “The conference is one way for Rutgers researchers to get together and share data and information on their current programs and to discuss possible avenues for future collaborations.”
Fisher said the first annual conference, held in October 2021, had approximately 50 attendees as it only invited autism researchers and clinicians from Rutgers and Children’s Specialized Hospital (CSH) in New Brunswick.
He said that this year, the conference will be open to any individuals interested in autism, especially members of the University community and employees at CSH. He expects approximately 100 to 120 attendees.
The Office for Research at Rutgers is a sponsor for this event and other events like it that encourage collaboration between not only researchers but also students, said Michael E. Zwick, senior vice president for research.
Partnering with academic and research leaders like RUCARES is part of the efforts made to provide the resources necessary to better the lives of people both in the community and around the world, Zwick said.