The Simons Foundation is pleased to announce that Gerald D. Fischbach, director of the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) since its inception in 2006, will now assume the roles of chief scientist and fellow of the Simons Foundation.
Louis F. Reichardt of the University of California, San Francisco will succeed Fischbach as director of SFARI.
Fischbach is widely recognized as a scientific leader, possessing not only a deep understanding of his own field, neurobiology, but also a critical awareness of the broad sweep of science. His research has centered on the formation and maintenance of synapses — the connections between nerve cells and their targets, through which information is transmitted in the nervous system. He pioneered the use of nerve cell cultures to study the electrophysiology, morphology and biochemistry of developing nerve-muscle and inter-neuronal synapses.
Formerly dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences at Columbia University in New York and director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health, Fischbach received his M.D. in 1965 from Cornell University Medical School.
In addition to several other high-level appointments throughout his career, Fischbach was the Nathan Marsh Pusey Professor of Neurobiology and chairman of the neurobiology departments of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, and Edison Professor at Washington University.
A past president of the Society for Neuroscience, he is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Institute of Medicine, and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
As SFARI’s director, Fischbach helped define and implement the initiative’s mission: to learn as much as possible about autism and develop therapies to help individuals on the autism spectrum. Under Fischbach’s leadership, nearly 200 researchers received awards as Simons Investigators, including many who were attracted from other fields into autism research.
Fischbach helped develop a collaborative research community through annual meetings and workshops on topics as diverse as genetics, all aspects of brain science, and clinical matters.
To help these and other autism researchers understand the role of spontaneous, or de novo, mutations in the disorder, Fischbach spearheaded the creation of two exceptional resources: the Simons Simplex Collection, a repository of genetic and phenotypic data and corresponding biospecimens from nearly 3,000 autism simplex families, and SFARI.org, a pivotal resource in accelerating the creation of the growing community of scientists working in the area of autism spectrum disorder.
Most recently, he has overseen SFARI’s partnership with other groups to begin Autism BrainNet, a multi-site network that will collect brain tissue to advance autism research.
As the foundation’s chief scientist, Fischbach will contribute widely to all of the foundation’s scientific endeavors, including its life sciences and mathematics and physical sciences divisions, and SFARI. He will initiate new collaborative projects in neuroscience research and will be a key advisor to the foundation’s newly created education and outreach program. Fischbach will continue to be a visible spokesman for science, and for the Simons Foundation.