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February 26, 2014

Hartwick autism researcher gets $7K grant

A.J. Russo, assistant professor of biology at Hartwick College, said a research grant he recently received from the Autism Research Institute will help such individuals as his 19-year-old nephew, and provide Hartwick undergraduates with valuable research experience.

The $7,040 grant will allow Russo, an Oneonta resident, to continue to investigate possible causes of autism, a topic he became interested in more than 10 years ago after his nephew was diagnosed with severe autism. The disorder was becoming more widely recognized, he said, and his background in immunology spurred an interest in the physiological factors surrounding it, inspiring his research.

For a time, Russo said, he worked as Research Director at the Health Research Institute in Warrenville, Ill., delving into biological factors that could possibly have an effect on, or be caused by, autism. The company eventually went bankrupt, he said, but his desires to continue researching and begin teaching undergraduate students led him to Hartwick.

The funding is Russo’s sixth grant from the Autism Research Institute, he said. The institute has supported research at Hartwick by funding 12 projects in total, worth more than $85,000, according to Hartwick officials.

“I am very grateful to the Autism Research Institute for their support, which will help me, along with science students at Hartwick, to continue to investigate the relationship between biomarkers, neurotransmitters and the possible causes of autism,” Russo said. “Currently, eight Hartwick biology majors are working on projects funded by grants from the ARI, and we expect more to be involved in the upcoming semesters, thanks in large part, to the institute.”

What makes the research so fun, Russo said, is being able to work side-by-side with eight of the college’s biology majors on projects funded by the grants.

“It’s fantastic,” Russo said. “It is such a pleasure to have them in the lab.”

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