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Core Research Areas

The Administrative Core provides the scientific, administrative, and fiscal leadership of VTAC/CAR. The overarching goal of the Administrative Core is to coordinate and provide an inclusive environment that encourages  the intellectual community in which science relevant to autism spectrum disorder and related conditions or neurodegenerative disorders can prosper, with input from multiple scientific perspectives. The core fosters multidisciplinary collaborations through regular communications, scientific and community presentations, a biennial conference, and faculty and student awards. The core also serves as the liaison between faculty affiliates and community organizations or members through our affiliate listserv and community outreach. Finally, the administrative core also provides investigator support for grant preparations, submissions, and management.

The Biomedical and Imaging Core aims to capitalize on the diverse intellectual and institutional resources at Virginia Tech for the explicit purpose of advancing understanding of autism across all areas of medicine, including but not limited to genomics, cell biology, human neuroimaging and pathophysiology and at multiple levels of measurement including genes, molecules, cells, circuits and physiology. The broad intent of this core area is to accelerate the pace of new discoveries in autism by fostering trans-disciplinary collaborations that address the great scope of cellular-, molecular-, and neurocircuit-level factors of autism pathophysiology. This includes an explicit focus on a biobehavioral research agenda incorporating psychophysiology, neuroendocrinology and other methodologies that link central and peripheral nervous system functions. The long-term vision of this core area is to establish fundamental links between biological pathways and mechanisms of repair for the purpose of informing rational treatment development.

Area Director: John Richey, Ph.D.    Department of Psychology
Contact:        540-231-1453


  • Gene expression analyses of potential biomarkers of autism in a mouse model
  • Neural and autonomic bases of social dysfunction in ASD

The Technology Core area will promote research to identify requirements and establish guidelines that will help us to understand how to effectively integrate neurotechnology, devices and applications within an ASD specific framework. Designing and deploying information and communication technology into physical artifacts and systems provides capacities that can change how technology systems behave and how people use them. However, there is a divide, a gap, between what we can support with our technology and what is needed for people to effectively use technology systems to promote social interactions. Little is known about how this socio-technical gap manifests in information-rich physical spaces, especially for atypical populations such as ASD population. Further, recent advances in medical technology, especially medical imaging and  neurotechnology (from deep brain stimulator, nerve stimulation to neurofeedback), keep on improving our understanding of brain activity in response to external stimulus. The proliferation of commodity mobile devices, sensors and apps provides a great opportunity to make diagnostics, intervention and treatment more accessible and affordable and help people with ASD deal with the challenges of everyday social interactions.

Area Director: Denis Gracanin, Ph.D.     Department of Computer Science        540-231-2060


  • Development and Testing of a Novel Neurotechnology to Promote Emotion Recognition in Autism
  • Machine Learning and the Creation of a Mobile Application for Early Screening of Autism in Toddlers
  • Use of Technology to Promote Access to Services

The Clinical Translational Core provides support to investigators as well as scientific research related to some of the most challenging barriers in research involving human participants, including recruitment, diagnoses, assessment, and supportive services or interventions. This core research area has two purposes. One purpose is to engage in outreach on behalf of VTAC/CAR investigators by a) maintaining a participant research registry that provides an efficient means of contacting potential human participants from the ASD population; b) providing clinical expertise in psychological and behavioral assessment tools; and c) access to space for behavioral assessments or interviews. The second purpose is to foster research and dissemination of evidence-based practices for screening, diagnostic evaluations, supportive services, and clinical interventions for ASD and related conditions. Research in these areas will also include understanding the course of development for both neurotypical and neurodiverse populations across the lifespan.

Area Director: Angela Scarpa, Ph.D.    Department of Psychology
Contact:        540-231-8747


  • VTAC/CAR Research Registry
  • Parent training for disruptive behaviors across neurodivergent children
  • Emotion regulation intervention with autistic individuals
  • VT Mobile Autism Clinic assessments
  • Development of machine learning methods to support collaboration in a neurodiverse team at work

The Education Core provides support to researchers seeking to understand the PK-16 experience for students with ASD, including academic diagnoses, educational interventions, social skills development, literacy needs, transition services, and career development. This core research area has two purposes. One purpose is to engage in educational outreach on behalf of VTAC/CAR investigators to address the educational challenges of students with ASD. This outreach might include professional development and training for teachers and service providers and securing grants to support the educational experiences of students with ASD in the community. The second purpose is to foster research to identify and address educational challenges and produce evidence-based practices designed to mitigate those challenges. This trans-disciplinary research focus in education will bring greater understanding to the intersection of ASD and schooling and lead to data driven practices aimed at facilitating the academic, emotional, and social education for students with ASD.

Area Director: Thomas O. Williams, Ph.D.    School of Education       540-231-8337