Professor Bojana Zupan Awarded $331,000 Federal GrantFederal Grant Money Will Be Used for Autism Research

Assistant Professor of Psychological Science Bojana Zupan has received a $331,000 federal grant to continue research that she believes may lead to increased understanding of the causes of autism and the treatment of such disorders.

Assistant Professor of Psychological Science Bojana Zupan

The National Institute of Mental Health announced the awarding of the grant January 15. Prof. Zupan will collaborate with six students on the project over the next three years to continue her study of the developmental effects of deficiencies in the maternal Fragile X protein, which has been linked to intellectual instability and other behavioral characteristics linked to autism.

Zupan says there is evidence that even offspring of laboratory animals who do not share their mothers’ deficiency of this protein sometimes exhibit symptoms of abnormal sociability, leading her to suspect that environmental factors or other activity within the womb may contribute to this condition. “If there’s something environmental that we can identify, there’s a chance we can reverse the process and prevent it,” she said.

Zupan says the grant will enable her to fund approximately four students to help her in her research during each academic year and another two students under the auspices of Vassar’s Undergraduate Research Summer Institute.

President Elizabeth Bradley said the funding of the project is a tribute to the excellence of Vassar’s students and faculty. “Thanks to this grant, Professor Zupan and her students will be able to demonstrate that talented undergraduates, under the direction of an outstanding mentor, can make significant contributions to science and medicine,” Bradley said.

U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-18th District, who helped facilitate the grant, said he was impressed with the research Zupan is conducting. “Medical research is always a smart investment, especially when it comes to studying causes and treatments for people with complex neurological conditions like autism,” Maloney said. “I’m incredibly proud of the work Professor Zupan is doing, and I’m thrilled we can support her.”

Zupan says she’s looking forward to starting her research this spring semester .“I am grateful to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) for funding this Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA),” she said. “The award will substantially increase the productivity of my research program, advancing the investigation of non-heritable factors that may contribute to the overall risk of neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. These funds will also directly support a new two-year research technician position at Vassar College, as well as numerous summer research fellowships for Vassar’s undergraduate students. I appreciate the support of my institution, Vassar College, which views a vibrant research community as an invaluable teaching tool and invests in its faculty’s scholarly pursuits.”