Accelerating Autism Research


New funding paves the way for the Curry School of Education and its partners to create a unified center for autism research and training at the University of Virginia.

The University of Virginia Curry School of Education has received significant funding for an ambitious new effort to establish UVA as a global leader in autism research. UVA’s Board of Visitors awarded $6.2 million from the Strategic Investment Fund to The Supporting Transformative Autism Research (STAR) initiative, which aims to improve the lives of individuals with autism through groundbreaking research and innovative models for intervention and training.

According to a report released this month by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism affects a rapidly increasing number of children, adults, families, and communities across the country – about 2.4% of American children between the ages of 3 and 17. Despite its prevalence, critical questions remain about what causes autism and how to provide adequate support to those who need it. Communities across the country face significant shortages of professionals with training in autism, leading to substantial unmet needs from healthcare to education.

The STAR initiative, led by the Curry School in partnership with colleagues across the University, plans to tackle these issues by developing innovative and scalable solutions for intervention, support, and training. Strategic investments from UVA will fund essential infrastructure development to facilitate transformative interdisciplinary research and training.

“We are delighted to launch STAR as a response to the challenges and opportunities of autism,” said Bob Pianta, dean of the Curry School. “Our support from the SIF will immediately catalyze resources at UVA that span neuroscience, pediatrics, telehealth, education, and family support services to truly create the next generation of effective treatments and new knowledge in this growing field.  Our expanding list of community and organizational partners recognize and will help leverage the University's investment for real impact on individuals with autism and their families. 

“This is an exciting time,” Pianta said.

The newly developed Autism Research Core will support pan-university autism research by providing centralized project coordination, recruitment, and specialized testing by certified personnel. A centralized Autism Data System will enable secure storage and sharing of autism data across clinics and programs, helping to monitor progress and outcomes. The system will also provide access to resources and supports for families and professionals – infusing cutting-edge knowledge into community-based practices. The STAR initiative will also support an innovative Autism Research to Practice System, developing a framework for integrating research and training into existing systems of care.

“This support will allow us to leverage UVA’s remarkable interdisciplinary expertise to address critical areas of need in autism research, services, and training,” said Micah Mazurek, associate professor in the Curry School of Education and clinical psychologist with expertise in autism. “These key resources will provide a springboard for transformative research from basic science to development of novel interventions and supports. Our community-based partnerships will help us expand the reach and impact of our work by translating scientific discoveries into real-world practice across the Commonwealth and beyond. Our ultimate goal is to help people with autism achieve their fullest potential by working together to create innovative solutions for individuals, families and communities.”

For more information, contact Micah Mazurek at mm5gt@virginia.edu.