September 17, 2014

Trendsetters

Higher Education, Autism Research

Mike Vogel | 11/1/2009

Margaret Pericak-Vance
Margaret “Peggy” Pericak-Vance
John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics
University of Miami Miller School of Medicine / Director
Miami

Work: Together with her husband, she is working on a project (jjvance.org) to prevent deaths like the one that took their son. Also, the JJ Vance Foundation provides scholarships to scholar-athletes at his old high school in North Carolina and internships to Miami-Dade students.

Interests: Spending time with daughter, Danica, a med student, knitting, needlework, cooking and her dogs

Recognition: UM says most top scientists are proud to have their work cited by their peers 3,000 to 4,000 times in their lifetime. Pericak-Vance’s work has been cited more than 35,000 times. [Photo: Donna Victor]

Quick to laugh, Peggy Pericak-Vance, 58, chuckles about her “140-hour” workweek while doing a phone interview on her “semi-day off” and cooking dinner. The days have been packed since 2007, when she arrived at the University of Miami with her husband and fellow genomic researcher, Dr. Jeffery Vance, to establish a world-beater gene institute. With an $80-million economic development grant, it’s grown to more than 150 staffers (on the way to 300), made discoveries and occupied a new, $90-million building. A few months ago, the Hussman Foundation donated $20 million in part to fund a large-scale gene-sequencing project to find genes that raise the risk of autism and determine how they do it. “It allows us to do some things that are a little out of the box,” she says.

The couple met at Indiana University while earning doctorates in genetics. They’ve known sorrow. Their son, soccer athlete Jeffery Joseph “J.J.” Vance, died in 1998 at 14 from a blood clot stemming from a minor injury. The clot possibly had a genetic cause. That happened in North Carolina while they worked at Duke University.

Their former Duke boss, UM med school dean Dr. Pascal Goldschmidt, recruited them to Miami to create a cutting-edge research center that turns discoveries into prevention and clinical care. Jeffery Vance chairs UM’s human genetics department.

Pericak-Vance works mostly on autism and Alzheimer’s, though she also discovered genes linked to multiple sclerosis and age-related macular degeneration. She aims to figure out how genes drive disease and then develop therapies to thwart the disease.

Behavioral Side

Ivy Chong

Ivy Chong
Scott Center for Autism Treatment
Florida Institute of Technology / Director of Behavioral Services
Melbourne

Florida Institute of Technology assistant professor Ivy Chong, 34, a native of Canada with a doctorate in psychology from Western Michigan, directs behavioral services at the Scott Center for Autism Treatment at Florida Institute of Technology.

Its permanent home officially opened last month. The center treats 52 children, each receiving two to 20 hours of therapy per week. The difficulty is cost — therapy comes at $35 to $50 per hour. Starting this year, Florida requires most health insurers to pay up to $36,000 a year ($200,000 lifetime) in autism screening and treatment benefits.

Tags: Trendsetters, Education

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