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Immunological Factors, Genes and the Environment
Judy Van de Water, PhD: Dr. Van de Water joined the faculty of the M.I.N.D. (Medical Investigations of Neurodevelopmental Disorders) Institute in 2000, when she began her research on the immunobiology of autism. She has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health for more than fifteen years, and is currently part of the NIEHS-funded Center for Children’s Environmental Health as the principal investigator of the Immunological Susceptibility in Autism project. She is also part of a project funded by NIMH to examine for early biomarkers in the plasma of mothers whose children have autism.
Dr. Van de Water joined the faculty in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of California, Davis in 1999. In 2000, she also joined the faculty of the newly formed UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute when she began her research on the immunobiology of autism. Dr. Van de Water’s laboratory pursues research programs pertaining to autoimmune and clinical immune-based disorders including the biological aspects of autism spectrum disorders. The application of Dr. Van de Water’s immunopathology background has been instrumental in the dissection of the immune anomalies noted in some individuals with autism, and in the differentiation of various autism behavioral phenotypes at a biological level. Most notable of these is the investigation of the maternal immune system as it relates to autism spectrum disorders, with particular emphasis on the presence of highly specific maternal autoantibodies to fetal brain proteins. Dr. Van de Water’s seminal work in this area has led to a highly specific biomarker of autism risk as well as three patents leading to the commercialization of this technology. Dr. Van de Water is currently the Director of the NIEHS funded Center for Children’s Environmental Health at UC Davis, investigating potential environmental risk factors contributing to the incidence and severity of childhood autism. In addition, Dr. Van de Water’s work is also part of a comprehensive and multidiscipline analysis known as the Autism Phenome Project (APP). Prior to working in autism spectrum disorder research, Dr. Van de Water’s research interests were focused on the immunopathologic mechanisms associated with the autoimmune liver disease, primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC). Her research during PBC led to the discovery of the PBC autoantigen, pyruvate dehydrogenase E2, and the B cell epitope recognized by these autoantibodies.
Dr. Van de Water is the recipient of the Slifka-Ritvo IMFAR Innovative Basic Science research award for her contribution to autism research, and the McGovern Research Award for significant impact in the health field. Dr. Van de Water holds both a B.S. in Biologic Sciences, and a Ph.D. in Immunology from the University of California at Davis.
Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” In the same way, our achievements in the field of autism today stem from
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