National Science Challenge funding for Dr Jessie Jacobsen

28 July 2017
Dr Jessie Jacobsen, School of Biological Sciences
Dr Jessie Jacobsen, School of Biological Sciences

Rutherford Discovery Fellow Dr Jessie Jacobsen from the School of Biological Sciences has been awarded $343,614 in funding from A Better Start National Science Challenge and Cure Kids for a project to genetically screen children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

ASD is a neurodevelopmental condition characterised by impairments in social interaction and repetitive behaviours. It is now one of the most common developmental disorders in children although the reasons for the increase are not fully understood.

Dr Jacobsen says the research team will use the funding to develop a novel method to genetically screen children with confirmed ASD, from the cohort studies Growing Up in New Zealand and Minds for Minds.

"The aim of the project is to develop, and transfer into clinical practice, novel technologies, materials and protocols for cost-effective screening of the most frequently affected genes in children diagnosed with ASD," Dr Jacobsen says.

Growing Up in New Zealand, one of the cohort studies being used, represents the diversity of New Zealand’s child population, with 24% of the nearly 7000 children identifying as Maori. This will allow the team to include a large number of Maori and Pacific families who have been previously underserved in ASD-related research.

Dr Jacobsen also expects to return a genetic diagnosis for around 30-90 of the 300 children, which will enable more targeted interventions and improved management for them.

"The advances brought about by cost-effective sequencing of genes offers a great opportunity to improve our understanding of ASD at a more refined level, with the ultimate goal of improving the lives of all those children affected."

Dr Jacobsen's project is one of ten to receive funding through this new $2.8m child health research funding collaboration, provided by A Better Start, a Government funded National Science Challenge, and child health research charity, Cure Kids.