Autism Spectrum Disorders Scientific/Clinical Advisory Board

David Amaral, Ph.D.

Beneto Foundation Chair
Director of Research, MIND Institute, UC Davis

After spending the early part of his career at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Dr. Amaral joined the University of California, Davis in 1995 as a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Center for Neuroscience and is currently a Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience. In 1998, Dr. Amaral was named the Beneto Foundation Chair and founding Research Director of the MIND Institute which is dedicated to studying autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Dr. Amaral received a joint PhD in Psychology and Neurobiology from the University of Rochester and he carried out postdoctoral work at Washington University in neuroanatomy. Dr. Amaral pursues research dealing with the neurobiology of social behavior and with the development, neuroanatomical organization and plasticity of the primate and human amygdala and hippocampal formation. His research effort has increasingly been dedicated to understanding the biological bases of autism spectrum disorder. This work includes postmortem studies of the autistic brain and magnetic resonance imaging studies of children with autism spectrum disorder. He has also spearheaded efforts to establish nonhuman primate models of neuroimmune etiologies of autism spectrum disorder. As Research Director of the MIND Institute, he coordinates a comprehensive and multidisciplinary analysis of children with autism called the Autism Phenome Project to define biomedical characteristics of different types of autism. Most recently, Dr. Amaral has become Director of Autism BrainNet, a collaborative effort sponsored by the Simons Foundation to solicit postmortem brain tissue to facilitate autism research. In April of 2015, Amaral became Editor-in-Chief of Autism Research the journal of the International Society for Autism Research. In 2016, he was appointed to the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. 

Alessio Fasano, M.D.

W. Allan Walker Chair of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition
Chief of Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition
Director of Center for Celiac Research and Treatment
Director of Mucosal Immunology and Biology Research Center
Associate Chief, Department of Pediatrics, Basic, Clinical and Translational Research
MassGeneral Hospital for Children
Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School

Alessio Fasano, MD, is Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Mucosal Immunology and Biology Research Center (MIBRC) at MassGeneral Hospital for Children. Dr. Fasano’s current research expertise encompasses basic science focused on bacterial pathogenesis, gut microbiome composition and function in health and disease, the regulation of gut permeability, and intestinal mucosal biology and immunology, as well as translational science focused on the role of impaired intestinal barrier function in the pathogenesis of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, including celiac disease and type 1 diabetes. 

Dr. Fasano’s group was responsible for the discovery of zonulin in 2000, a protein involved in the regulation of tight junctions, which is released in conditions of dysbiosis.  Current research directed by Dr. Fasano is focused on the basic science of the gut microbiome and intestinal mucosal biology, as well as translational science focused on interventional clinical trials in autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. He is founding co-chair of the MGH Research Institute’s Microbiome Think Tank, which regularly brings together researchers, clinicians, entrepreneurs and other interested parties to discuss opportunities in the emerging field of microbiome research and therapeutic applications for microbial dysbiosis.

Dr. Fasano is also Director of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at MassGeneral Hospital for Children. He founded the Center, where he treats both adults and children for gluten-related disorders, in 1996. His visionary research, which established the rate of celiac disease at one in 133 people, led to the awareness of celiac disease as a growing public health problem in the United States. The author of Gluten Freedom, Dr. Fasano is widely sought after as an expert in celiac disease, intestinal permeability and autoimmune disorders and has been featured in media outlets around the world, including National Public Radio, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the BBC and The Daily Mail.

Daniel Geschwind, M.D. Ph.D.

Gordon and Virginia MacDonald Distinguished Chair in Human Genetics
Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry
David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Dr. Geschwind is the Gordon and Virginia MacDonald Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics, Neurology and Psychiatry at UCLA. In his capacity as Senior Associate Dean and Associate Vice Chancellor of Precision Health, he leads the Institute for Precision Health at UCLA. His laboratory has pioneered the application of systems biology methods in neurologic and psychiatric disease discovering multiple disease causing genes and disease mechanisms.  Dr. Geschwind has put considerable effort into fostering large-scale collaborative patient resources for genetic research and data sharing. He has served on numerous scientific advisory boards, including the Faculty of 1000 Medicine, the Executive Committee of the American Neurological Association, the Scientific Advisory Board for the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the NIMH Advisory Council and the NIH Council of Councils. He has published over 400 papers and serves on the editorial boards of Cell, Neuron and Science.  He has received several awards for his laboratory work and leadership and is an elected Member of the American Association of Physicians and the National Academy of Medicine.

Robert Hendren, D.O.

Professor of Psychiatry
Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Department of Psychiatry
Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Weill Institute for Neurosciences

Dr. Robert Hendren is a psychiatrist who focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders including autism and pharmacological and biomedical treatments.

His research has spanned a variety of illnesses, from autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder to eating and impulse control disorders. In 2001 he became director of the MIND Institute at the University of California, Davis, where he developed a strong clinical trials program that has tested many new treatments for autism.

Since coming to UCSF in 2009 as director of child and adolescent psychiatry, Dr. Hendren has conducted many clinical studies, including an innovative trial to determine if there is a genomic profile that can predict the response of autistic children to the drug risperdone. He is also gauging the biological effects of alternative treatments such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, Omega-3s and hyperbaric oxygen treatment (HBOT) on individuals with autism.

Despite research and administrative pressures, Dr. Hendren continues to practice as a clinician, seeing patients with serious emotional disorders on a weekly basis. “New technology means we can understand the neurodevelopmental processes that lead to disorders like autism,” he says. “We can identify autism earlier, make targeted interventions earlier, and alter the course of the disorder— and maybe even lead to a future where kids no longer have that diagnosis.”

Clara Lajonchere, Ph.D.

Deputy Director, Institute for Precision Health at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Dr. Lajonchere is the Deputy Director for the newly-founded UCLA Institute for Precision Health. Although her background reflects a wide range of professional, clinical, and research experience across CNS disorders such as schizophrenia and autism, she has spent her career working on cross-cutting issues in psychiatric genetics. Over the course of her career, she has used a team science approach to bridge the chasm between the discoveries made in the laboratory and the development of therapeutics and interventions that have relevance for patients.   To this end, she has brought together cross-disciplinary teams of scientists, clinicians and patient advocacy groups to support large-scale collaborative research programs, training opportunities, and translational initiatives that have been transformative in the field of autism and psychiatric genetics.

For over a decade, she served as the VP of Clinical Programs at Autism Speaks where she was responsible for building scalable programs such as the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE), the Autism Tissue Program, the Autism Treatment Network (ATN), and several large-scale bioinformatic initiatives. She generated significant federal funding from NIH to support her own scientific programs and research activities through her academic research appointments at USC.  She has also worked closely with the Latino community in Los Angeles and has received significant federal funding to develop models for authentic inclusion of minority populations in biomedical research.  Two and a half years ago, Dr. Lajonchere stepped out of academia and the non-profit world to work in the Silicon Valley with a digital healthcare startup that used machine learning and mobile technology to identify children who may be at risk for developmental disabilities and autism using their mobile phones. 

Dr. Lajonchere received her formal training in experimental psychology at Washington University in St. Louis with a particular emphasis on cognitive neuroscience and child psychopathology. Dr. Lajonchere has held research appointments in pediatrics and the Viterbi School of Engineering at USC and Keck School of Medicine and will be joining the Neurology faculty at UCLA in the spring

Sarkis K Mazmanian, Ph.D.
Co-founder and Director

Luis & Nelly Soux Professor of Microbiology
Investigator, Heritage Medical Research Institute
Division of Biology & Biological Engineering at California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

Sarkis K Mazmanian, PhD, is the Luis & Nelly Soux Professor of Microbiology in the Division of Biology & Biological Engineering at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

He is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from the University of California, Los Angeles, where Dr. Mazmanian also received his PhD training in microbiology and immunology. He was a Helen Hay Whitney Post-doctoral Fellow and subsequently appointed assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in 2006, and later that year moved to Caltech. Dr. Mazmanian has won numerous awards including a Searle Scholar, Young Investigator of the Year at Harvard Medical School, Damon Runyon Innovation Award, was named by Discover Magazine as one of the “Best Brains in Science under 40”, “Life Science Superstar” by Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News, and recently received the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” award.

His laboratory focuses on the study of beneficial bacterial molecules from the human gut microbiome as novel therapies for immunologic and neurologic disorders, with a specific focus on developing probiotic treatments for autism. He is a founder of 2 biotech companies, and has or currently serves on the Scientific Advisory Board of over a dozen companies, academic centers and not-for-profit foundations. 

Emeran Mayer, M.D. Ph.D.

Director, G. Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress and Resilience
Division of Digestive Diseases
David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Emeran A Mayer is a Gastroenterologist, Neuroscientist and Professor in the Departments of Medicine, Physiology and Psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.  He is the Executive Director of the G Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress & Resilience, co-director of the CURE: Digestive Diseases Research Center at UCLA, and member of the steering committee of the UCLA Microbiome Center. As one of the pioneers and leading researchers in the role of mind-brain-gut interactions in health and chronic disease, he has made major scientific contributions to the area of basic and translational enteric neurobiology with wide-ranging applications in clinical GI diseases and disorders. He has published more than 300 scientific papers (h-factor 100), and co-edited 3 books.  He is the recipient of the 2016 Paul D McLean award from the American Psychosomatic Society and the Distinguished Mentor Award from the American Gastroenterological Association.  In addition to his ongoing research in chronic visceral pain and irritable bowel syndrome, his work has expanded into other areas of brain gut microbiome interactions, including the role of the gut microbiota brain interactions in inflammatory bowel disorders, food addiction in obesity, autism spectrum disorders.

Dr. Mayer has been interviewed on National Public Radio, PBS and by many national and international media outlets including the Los AngelesTimes, Atlantic magazine, Time and Newsweek Magazine and National Geographic Explorer. He has spoken at UCLA TEDx on the Mysterious Origins of Gut Feelings in 2015, and his book The Mind Gut Connection has been published by Harper&Collins in July of 2016 and has been translated into more than 10 languages.