Simons Foundation Donates $38M To Explore Genetic Cause of Autism
The Wall Street Journal on Thursday examined the Simons Foundation, which has donated $38 million over the past two years to explore possible genetic causes of autism and is "stirring up the small community of autism researchers and advocates."
James Simons -- who runs Renaissance Technologies, one of the world's most successful hedge funds -- created the foundation with his wife. They have an autistic daughter. The foundation has handed out 15 grants to researchers since its inception, and Simons said he and his wife intend to give out $100 million more.
Simons, who personally reviews grant applications, has asked that projects "focus on autism" and "include scientists he like[s]," the Journal reports. Simons is urging scientists to explore a genetically based explanation for autism. Researchers debate Simons' presence in the field, with some applauding the cash influx and others concerned that the foundation does not work with many existing autism groups.
"He's had an electrifying impact on the thinking of researchers, knowing that kind of money is available," Clarence Schutt, a Princeton University chemist whose son is autistic, said.
Robert Hendren, executive director of the M.I.N.D. Institute at the University of California-Davis, said he is concerned that large private grants could overlook innovative approaches, adding that he is not sure genetic research alone will provide answers to autism's development.
Edwin Cook, a longtime autism researcher at the University of Illinois-Chicago, said he is pleased the foundation is recruiting top scientists.
Steven Moldin, senior manager at the NIH's National Institute of Mental Health, added that even with some of the world's most talented researchers, progress is likely to be slow. "There is not some guy who can hit home runs every time and make it go suddenly faster," Moldin said (Regalado, Wall Street Journal, 12/15).