Haifa and Cambridge universities are proud to collaborate in the field of genetics and early detection of autism. The joint work is lead by Prof Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of Cambridge’s Autism Research Centre and Prof Simone Shamay-Tsoory, Director of Haifa’s Social and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory.

Autism is a highly varied neuro-developmental condition characterised by deficits in social interaction and in verbal and nonverbal communication, alongside unusually repetitive behaviour and extremely narrow interests. Autism manifests heterogeneously, varying in clinical presentation across a spectrum of behaviour. The prevalence of autism is high, with up to 1% of children affected, and males affected more than females in a 4:1 ratio. The world-wide prevalence of autism has increased substantially in recent decades; this, combined with very high costs of treatment – twice or three times higher than other neuro-developmental conditions, makes research into the origins and the nature of autism extremely important.

Two post-doctoral research fellows from Haifa University are currently working in Cambridge.

 

Dr Shimrit Ziv - Haifa University Research Fellow

Dr-Shirmrit

Dr. Shimrit Ziv, an Israeli Pediatrician and Child Psychiatrist is working on identifying prenatally male-hormone testosterone levels and the social behaviour hormone Oxytocin levels to allow for detection of Autism as early as pregnancy and immediately after birth. The study follows women during pregnancy (recruited at Sheba Hospital in Israel and Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge) from the second trimester ultrasound scan, through to when the child is 24 months of age.

This research collaboration is based on findings from the Cambridge Autism Research Centre study showing elevated prenatal sex steroid hormones in children who go on to develop autism. Dr Ziv’s research will detect prenatally and after birth hormone levels by using ultrasound measurements and newborn blood spot tests that are already being done in Israel. The average age when Autism is diagnosed today is 4, so this data can potentially influence early initiation of treatment before the emergence of symptoms, and change the future for many children and their families.

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Dr Florina Uzefovsky - Haifa University Research Fellow

Dr-Florina

Dr Florina Uzefovsky is working on several projects: first, she is analyzing how brain activity is affected by variations in the oxytocin receptor gene in people with or without autism. Second, she is analysing hormones known to be involved in social behaviour (vasopressin and oxytocin) in the blood and saliva of people with or without autism, and testing how these hormones relate to social skills. Finally, she is organising a large genetic study - 2,000 individuals with or without autism - to test if the oxytocin receptor gene and related genes are different in autism, and are related to their empathy difficulties and strong systemising.

Her groundbreaking studies are an important complement to the studies underway in the Cambridge Autism Research Centre (Auyeung et al, 2015) and other labs internationally, testing if a nasal spray of the ‘social hormone’ oxytocin represents a promising and safe treatment avenue for the social disability in autism.

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“The work with Israeli academics is important to me. I do not think the academic boycott is a fair way to do it and I do not think it is going to be effective either", said Prof Simon Baron-Cohen in an interview to The Jewish Chronicle.


How you can help

Dr Shimrit Ziv received research grants from the Israeli Medical Association and from the Daniel Turnberg Travel Fellowship. Dr Florina Uzefovsky received research grants from the Joseph Levy Foundation and the Israel Science Foundation (ISF).

Our goal is to provide these two outstanding Israeli academics with a full scholarship over 3 years of research to take place at Cambridge and Israel. A basic annual research scholarship is £40,000.

All donations are transferred in full, without deductions or fees.

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