Race raises funds for autism initiative

Runners raised over $6,000 at the event, an amount which U donors matched.

by Justin Horwath

Some students took full advantage of the hero theme for the 5K Run for Research Saturday and wore masks, capes and brandished fake swords while others just came in the usual runner’s attire.

When the horn blew at 1 p.m. in front of Northrop, approximately 550 participants took off for the race which organizers said raised over $6,000 for an autism initiative headed by three University faculty members.

Organizers of the initiative plan on using the money raised to hire more clinical staff to care for patients and a medication database system for the University’s department of pediatrics. They also hope to raise enough for a center at the University for the initiative.

The money was matched by longtime University donors Alfred and Ingrid Harrison.

Rami Assadi, vice president of the Neuroscience Club, which co-sponsored the event, said all the funds raised from the race went to the initiative.

“We found that this autism initiative was going on at the (University) and so it worked out really well,” said the neuroscience, physiology and French senior.

For the past two years, money raised from the race went to cystic fibrosis research.

Director of the Developmental Biology Center at the University Scott Selleck, who is helping head the autism initiative, said he and other faculty members will invest the money into providing more medical care for patients with autism and funding basic research on the causes of autism as well as clinical treatments.

“To really do something about this problem, you have to invest really broadly,” he said.

Along with the Neuroscience Club, the race was co-sponsored by Students Today Leaders Forever, the CLA Student Board and the Public Relations Society of America. Organizers said the majority of participants were University students.

Mechanical engineering sophomore Charlie Beckey came because he just wanted to have fun.

“I just wanted to be a part of a good cause,” he said.

Before runners took off, Peggy Reagan, mother of 13-year-old Jimmy who was diagnosed with autism when he was 2, spoke on the dramatic rise of the rate of babies diagnosed with autism in the past decade.

She noted it has gone from one in every 10,000 children being diagnosed with the disorder to about one in every 150 in a decade.

“Ten years ago you had people saying that autism wasn’t on the rise,” she said. “I look at autism as a marathon and we’re just at the start of the race.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately one in every 166 babies is now diagnosed with the disorder.

Although the exact numbers, along with the reasons, for the rise of children being diagnosed with autism in the past decade are disputed between members of the medical community, Michael Reiff, director of the clinical autism program at the University who is also heading the initiative, said “for the most part it looks real.”

“I think (the race) was a great way to let students know that we’re here, that we’re planning this initiative and that we’re encouraging them to get involved in any level they would like,” he said.

But the $13,000 from the race is only a fraction of what Reiff and others hope to raise for the initiative. He said their goal by the end of the year is to have $1 million raised, which Selleck said the Harrisons will match.

“It’s a sizable donation,” he said. “The way they set up the donation where it has a matching component, they’re trying to make sure that money is being leveraged to the maximum.”

Also heading the initiative is Director of the Division of Neonatology and the Institute of Child Development Michael Georgieff, who said the main challenge – and goal – of the initiative is bringing the right researchers together.

“Our biggest challenge is to keep everybody in the conversation and to be scientifically rigorous about it,” he said. “When people are going to donate, they’re going to look at it and say that it’s really cohesive.”

Selleck added that although he is optimistic about the initiative, it is still in its “early stages.”

“We need to communicate that we are in the beginning phases,” he said. “We couldn’t handle (a big rush of patients), so we have to be careful what we communicate we have the capability to do.”