David Amaral, Ph.D.
Beneto Foundation Chair, MIND Institute; University of California Distinguished Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Center for Neuroscience, School of Medicine; Core Investigator, California National Primate Research Center
David G. Amaral, Ph.D. received his undergraduate education at Northwestern University and graduated with a degree in Psychology. He then moved to the University of Rochester where he received a joint Ph.D. in Neuroscience and Psychology. He conducted postdoctoral research at the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at Washington University. He then moved to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies where he remained for 13 years. During this period he was also an adjunct professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego.
Dr. Amaral joined the University of California, Davis in 1995 as a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Center for Neuroscience. He is also a staff scientist at the California National Primate Research Center. Dr. Amaral was named the Beneto Foundation Chair and Research Director of the MIND (Medical Investigations of Neurodevelopmental Disorders) Institute in 1998. The MIND Institute is dedicated to understanding the biological bases of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders with the goal of developing preventative measures and innovative treatments.
Dr. Amaral’s laboratory pursues research programs dealing with the neurobiology of primate social behavior and with the development and neuroanatomical organization of the primate and human amygdala and hippocampal formation. He has also carried out a longstanding program designed to understand the organization of brain regions involved in memory. His research now also includes postmortem studies of the autistic brain and magnetic resonance imaging studies of children with autism spectrum disorders. As Research Director of the MIND Institute, he is currently coordinating a comprehensive and multidisciplinary analysis of children with autism called the Autism Phenome Project to define biomedical characteristics of different types of autism. This project will lead to more effective, hypothesis driven research on the causes of each type of autism and ultimately to more effective treatments. Dr. Amaral has also spearheaded efforts to establish animal models of autism and has been evaluating the potential immune basis of certain forms of autism.
Keynote Talk Title & Abstract
The Ups and Downs of Autism Spectrum Disorder: Tracking the trajectories of autism in the Autism Phenome Project.
We are attempting to subdivide autism spectrum disorder into more homogeneous subtypes by recruiting a very large cohort of young children (2 - 3 1/2 years of age) into a comprehensive, multidisciplinary and longitudinal analysis of the features of autism. We have also enrolled age-matched typically developing children for comparison. To date, we have enrolled nearly 500 families into the Autism Phenome Project. In this talk, I will highlight some of the differences in brain development that we have discovered and the behavioral consequences of the different developmental trajectories. I will also provide an overview of data that demonstrates difference in cognitive development in subsets of children with autism. I will also summarize findings on the trajectories of autism severity from early to middle childhood. Finally, I will briefly summarize data demonstrating brain changes in children at risk for autism as early as 6 months of age. These studies are based on the finding that children at risk for autism have increased levels of extra-axial fluid surrounding their brains. The goal of all of our studies is to understand the biological etiologies of different forms of autism which will hopefully lead to more targeted and effective treatments of their debilitating features.