2015 Autism Scholars: Bios

Doctoral Award

Tracy YuenTracy Yuen, University of Toronto

Tracy Yuen is a PhD student at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto. The prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is rising and it is estimated to affect 1 in 77 children in Ontario. Although more than 50 per cent of funding for ASD services in Ontario is allocated towards provision of intensive behavioural intervention (IBI), patient outcomes are reported to vary across different forms of IBI. The first objective of this study is to identify the most effective IBI for young children with ASD using network meta-analysis, which can infer relative effectiveness of different IBIs that may not have been directly compared in clinical trials. Initiation of IBI can be delayed due to uncertainty in early ASD diagnosis. Diagnosticians are including clinical genetic testing as part of ASD assessment to gain insight into a child’s propensity of ASD. The second objective is to determine the cost-effectiveness of diagnostic genetic testing in ASD and the most effective IBI identified in Part 1 compared to current practice. This thorough assessment will generate much needed evidence on the cost-effectiveness of diagnostic genetic testing in ASD and how its implementation could change the demand for downstream services. As prevalence of ASD continues to climb annually, study findings can guide policymakers to better anticipate changes in health-care demand and integrate new health technologies in a sustainable manner.

Master’s Award

Dong WangDonald Wang, University of Toronto

Donald Wang received his Bachelor of Science degree with high distinction from the University of Toronto in 2014 and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in pharmacology under the supervision of Dr. Albert Wong at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health. Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are the most common childhood brain development disorders and are characterized by difficulties in communication, impaired social interaction and repetitive behavioral patterns. There are very limited treatments for these social deficits in ASDs. This project is aimed at investigating new drugs that could enhance social functioning and thus be potential new treatments for ASDs. In particular, Wang is testing two new chemical compounds, UNC0642 and A-366, on social behaviors in established animal models. These new drugs both target G9a, a methytransferase, which is an enzyme that is involved in epigenetic regulation of the genome. Epigenetics refers to modifications of DNA and DNA related proteins that control the amount and timing of gene expression. Epigenetic mechanisms may be important in the development of ASDs. By studying the effects of these compounds on social behaviors, Wang hopes to further our understanding of the development of ASD and to identify novel targets for potential ASDs treatments.