The High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, supported by the Common Fund at the National Institutes of Health, has awarded a $1.95 million grant to Ronald R. Seese, M.D., Ph.D., a developmental neurologist at Akron Children’s Hospital and an associate professor of pediatrics at Northeast Ohio Medical University. The 2023 NIH Director’s Early Independence Award (DP5) is across five years for Dr. Seese’s project, titled “Defining the Autonomic Cerebellum in Autism.”
Dysautonomia is a prevalent and disabling neurologic disorder that affects over 70 percent of children with autism. There are no targeted treatments to reduce the dysregulated autonomic responses, or dysautonomia, that affect patients. Dr. Seese aims to test if modulating the adrenal-related cerebellum alters autonomic physiologic responses.
Dr. Seese’s studies have the potential to identify specific cerebellar regions to target with new treatment approaches that aim to reverse refractory dysautonomia in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The proposed work could ultimately transform how dysautonomia in ASD and other disorders associated with cerebellar abnormalities are managed.
“I am humbled by and grateful for the support of the NIH High-Risk, High-Reward program, Akron Children’s Hospital and Northeast Ohio Medical University,” said Dr. Seese. “This NIH Director’s Early Independence Award will help accelerate translational research aimed to better understand the neurobiological basis of autism spectrum disorder, a highly prevalent neurodevelopmental disability that affects 1 in 36 children.
“Focused efforts to better understand the brain basis of autism are needed to improve how we diagnose and manage this disability and as a result improve the health of children worldwide.”
According to the NIH, the NIH Director’s Early Independence Award was created to accelerate the pace of biomedical, behavioral and social science discoveries by supporting exceptionally creative scientists with highly innovative research. The program seeks to identify and support early-career scientists with high-impact ideas. The program encourages creative, outside-the-box thinkers to pursue exciting and innovative ideas in any area of biomedical, behavioral or social science research relevant to the NIH mission.
“Dr. Seese has been recognized by the Director of the NIH as one of our nation’s leading young physician-scientists,” said Dr. Michael Forbes, chief academic officer at Akron Children’s. “His research aligns beautifully with our goal of improving child health through discovery. As a dedicated, compassionate child neurologist, he is inspired by his patients to seek deeper understanding into the origins of autism and autistic behaviors that may one day lead to novel treatments. This award also underscores the power of our collaboration with NEOMED, one of our regional academic partners. We hope that doing this type of historic research together demonstrates what is possible when we combine the complementary strengths in our northeast Ohio academic community.”
“NEOMED is excited about Dr. Seese’s work and the NIH’s support of his innovative research. The NIH Director’s Early Independence Award is very prestigious, with the intent of helping exceptional junior investigators,” Rebecca Z. German, Ph.D., NEOMED’s vice president for research, noted. “Dr. Seese, who will be working both as an independent researcher at NEOMED and clinician at Akron Children’s Hospital, is deserving of this award. I look forward to his continued success as he represents the partnership’s collective mission of improving health through innovative education, practice and research.”
NEOMED and Akron Children’s have been partners since 1974, the year following the University’s founding.