Friday, August 28, 2009

A generous gift

$29M gift funds new multidisciplinary center for adults with autism


TRANSFORMING CARE FOR ADULT AUTISTIC PATIENTS: From left, Slavin, Bauman, Schutt and Kay Murray, RN

Autism is characterized by impaired social interaction, problems with communication and unusual, repetitive behavior or severely limited activities and interests. There is no single best treatment for patients, so those with autism can best benefit from a multidisciplinary, patient-centered care team. Unfortunately, such treatment programs often have long waitlists, and there are relatively few programs for adults with autism.

To address these individual and societal needs, Nancy Lurie Marks and the Nancy Lurie Marks (NLM) Family Foundation have donated $29 million to the MGH -- the hospital's fourth largest gift ever -- to create the Lurie Family Autism Center, designed to transform the way caregivers address the growing and aging autistic population.

The center's formation comes as an increasing number of children diagnosed with autism will enter adulthood over the next several years. The center will address the needs of individuals with autism throughout their lifetimes and help the families of patients effectively deal with the complex issues facing autistic adults in society. Through the center, patients and their families will be seen by an integrated team of caregivers who will collaborate across medical disciplines in determining the proper course of treatment.

The new center will build on the clinical practice at LADDERS (Learning and Developmental Disabilities Evaluation and Rehabilitation Services), a program of MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) that provides expertise in neurology, developmental pediatrics, gastroenterology and psychiatry/psychopharmacology for children with autism. LADDERS will be expanded into adult internal medicine, augmentative communication, nutrition, audiology, and vocational and transitional planning support, with the key element of care centering on the coordination between clinicians, therapists, educational and family counselors and researchers.

The gift and additional funds to be raised will be used to create an environment promoting the discovery and testing of new treatments and the training of future specialists in delivering medical care to the autistic population. A national search soon will begin for a director for the Lurie Family Autism Center, who will occupy an endowed chair at Harvard Medical School (HMS).

The gift also will establish a two-year fellowship for young physician-researchers-in-training. The center will participate in a separate multi-institutional HMS program, funded by the NLM Family Foundation, to educate a new generation of physicians in the modern care of patients with autism. Margaret Bauman, MD, MGHfC neurologist and LADDERS founder, will serve as the MGH Distinguished Scholar in Autism, an endowed position to be held by a pioneering physician-scientist.

MGH President Peter L. Slavin, MD, announced the generous gift at an Aug. 25 event, where he thanked Marks and the NLM Family Foundation; Clarence Schutt, PhD, director and chief scientific officer of the foundation; and its president, Cathy Lurie. He also acknowledged W. Gerald Austen, MD, co-chair of the MGH Philanthropy Program and chairman of the MGH Chiefs' Council, and MGH Development Office staff for their fundraising efforts. He gave special mention to NLM Family Foundation trustees H. Eric Cushing, Mark Balk and Richard Denning, who helped develop the framework for the new center working with Schutt and Joan Sapir, MGH senior vice president of Neurosciences, MGHfC, Dermatology, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Molecular Biology, and Obstetrics and Gynecology.

"Through the years, the Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation has done so much to advance the understanding of autism spectrum disorders, and we are honored to join in this enduring partnership," said Slavin. "With this gift, the Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation is breaking new ground in the scientific study and clinical care of autism spectrum disorders. We are deeply committed to utilizing the MGH's full research enterprise to gain new and pioneering insights into these developmental disorders, while providing the finest multidisciplinary, compassionate, lifespan care to patients and families affected by autism."

For more information about the Lurie Family Autism Center/LADDERS, call 781-860-1700. For research questions, contact Christine Ferrone at the Lurie Family Autism Center at 781-860-1715.