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Spectrum: Autism Research News

March 6th

Celebrating women

Wednesday was International Women’s Day — an annual commemoration of the women’s rights movement.

Many scientists marked the occasion on Twitter.

Women have played a crucial role in scientific discovery. But the Wikipedia pages for many of these women are missing something: photographs. Hilda Bastian, editor for PubMed Health, is on a mission to change that. She has been scouring journals and obituaries for images of these groundbreaking scientists.

“I could feel my own image of scientists in history changing,” Bastian told Nature of her research. “Who we see affects us.”

Groups such as BiasWatchNeuro have been pushing for representation of women in science. Thanks in part to their efforts, there are more women in science today than there were 20 years ago, according to Nature. But most of the world’s scientists are still men. Exceptions are Brazil and Portugal, where women occupy almost half of all researcher positions.


Scientist stories

A video series called “Data Stories” shows how individual researchers use data from the Allen Human Brain Atlas — a collection of brain images and gene expression data from the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington.

This week’s video highlights the work of Sara Freeman, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Davis. Freeman uses the Allen Human Brian Atlas to identify brain areas that are sensitive to hormones, such as oxytocin, that affect social function. She then looks for differences in these brain areas in tissue from people with autism and controls.

Data Stories / 08 Mar 2017
Transplant trouble

The waiting lists for organs are long. Transplant programs weigh several criteria in deciding who lands where on the list. And according to a new piece in The Washington Post, autism is one of them.

The article centers on Paul Corby, a 27-year-old man with autism who needs a new heart. He applied for a transplant in 2011 and was denied because of “psychiatric issues, autism, the complexity of the process” and the “unknown and unpredictable effect” of immunosuppressant drugs on behavior, according to a letter explaining the denial.

“I couldn’t even believe this would happen,” Corby’s mom, Karen, told The Washington Post. “That this would be the reason in this day and age.”

There are some laws in place to prevent this kind of reasoning, according to writer Lenny Bernstein. But ultimately, transplant programs have a lot of discretion in how they factor autism and other neuropsychiatric conditions into their decisions.

“They see people with disability having a lower quality of life,” Samantha Crane, director of public policy for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, told the newspaper. “And that’s not true.”

Welcome, Watson

It’s been six years since IBM’s Watson computed its way to trivia victory on “Jeopardy!” Now Watson has a new role: helping people with autism decipher text.

A new Watson application, called Content Clarifier, simplifies sentences in electronic documents or webpages by weeding out unnecessary information and replacing complex words with ones that are easier to understand. It also adds visuals or other resources, such as web links.

“It greatly simplifies the task of reading with the end goal being to increase overall comprehension,” Will Scott, IBM’s lead software architect on the project, told Yahoo Finance.

Yahoo Finance / 07 Mar 2017
Amazing images

The winners of this year’s Wellcome Image Awards are works of art.

It’s hard to pick a favorite from the 22 winning images, which include photographs, computerized renderings and illustrations. Neurons star in two of the winners — one depicting neural stem cells in magenta with long, green tendrils, and the other a violet bridge of nerve fibers involved in language.

Screenshot 2017-03-09 16.46.19

Credit: Collin Edington and Iris Lee, Koch Institute at MIT

Screenshot 2017-03-09 16.46.35

Credit: Stephanie Forkel, NatBrainLab. Wellcome Images

This image of a squid is also incredible.

Screenshot 2017-03-09 16.46.56

Credit: Macroscopic Solutions. Wellcome Images

Wellcome Image Awards 2017
Job news

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