PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATORS

UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH


Shaun Eack, PhD

Co-Director

EackJames and Noel Browne Endowed Chair, Associate Dean for Research, and Professor of Social Work and Professor of Psychiatry

Professor of Psychiatry Principal Investigator NIH/NIMH “Cognitive Enhancement Therapy for Adult ASD”.

Dr. Eack’s primary research focus is on the development, implementation and evaluation of psychosocial treatment methodologies for persons with neurodevelopmental disorders. He is the director of the Perspectives Program at the Center for Excellence in Autism Research, which is developing novel interventions for adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Dr. Eack’s most recent work focuses on the application of Cognitive Enhancement Therapy, a neurocognitive and social-cognitive rehabilitation program, to adults with ASD. Cognitive Enhancement Therapy is based on decades of research on brain disorders, and seeks to improve social interaction abilities in people with autism spectrum disorders through the improvement of brain function.

Carla Mazefsky, PhD

Co-Director

Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology

Principal Investigator – NIH/NICHD – Change-Sensitive Measurement of Emotion Dysregulation in ASD
Simons Foundation/N. M. Lurie Foundation – Autism and Developmental Disabilities Inpatient Research Corroborative (ADDIRC)
Edith L. Trees Charitable Trust – Emotional Awareness and Skills Enhancement (EASE)

Dr. Mazefsky is a licensed clinical psychologist specialized in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Dr. Mazefsky was the 2012 recipient of the Ritvo/Slifka Award for Innovation in Autism Research from the International Society for Autism Research. She is the associate editor of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Dr. Mazefsky’s research has been funded by the Organization for Autism Research and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Her program of research is focused on emotional dysregulation in ASD, including the identification of underlying neural mechanisms, the conceptualization, treatment, and assessment of problems with emotional control, and co-occurring depression and anxiety. While most of her research to date has focused on high-functioning adolescents with ASD, she is expanding to more of a lifespan perspective, and is now conducting research on psychiatric inpatients with ASD as part of a multisite study to better understand and improve outcomes for those most severely affected by the disorder.

Nancy Minshew, MD

Nancy Minshew, MD

Founder

Endowed Chair in Autism Research and Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology

Dr. Minshew is a board certified neurologist and ounder of the Center for Excellence in Autism Research at the University of Pittsburgh and past director of the Collaborative Programs of Excellence in Autism (CPEA) and the Autism Center of Excellence (ACE). Minshew’s primary academic appointment for the past 30 years has been in a leading research psychiatry department which brought her face to face with many children and adults with autism and the challenges they and their parents encountered. After two or three years of intensive clinical work, I realized that the only way to make improvements in the lives of the many people affected by autism was through research that would advance the understanding of autism and the mechanisms underlying it. Over the next 30 years, I developed a large collaborative program of autism research focused on the elucidation of the cognitive and brain basis of autism at ever finer levels, and on the search for its genetic basis through participation in several national and international consortiums.

Our research was the first to propose that autism is a disorder of higher order abilities across domains and a distributed cortical systems disorder that results from disturbances in the development of brain connections during early brain development. Our subsequent research generated extensive evidence in support of these hypotheses and a clear understanding of the cognitive and brain bases of autism. Recent genetic findings have supported the involvement of early brain developmental events important to the development of cortical systems and their interconnections. Collectively, this research provided the foundation for our shift in focus ten years ago to the developmental of new mechanism-based interventions for individuals with ASD. Our intervention research is led by Dr. Shaun Eack who is trialing a comprehensive (18 month neurocognitive and social cognitive) rehabilitation program for adults with ASD without intellectual disability and Dr. Carla Mazefsky who is developing and trialing interventions for emotion dysregulation and the resulting challenging behavior in adolescents with ASD without intellectual disability. Dr. Mazefsky also leads one of the inpatient hospital research sites investigating challenging behavior in children with severe autism.