Autism researcher leaves Baylor, returns to MU

Neuropsychologist Stephen Kanne will become the executive director of the center.

When the Thompson Center first opened its doors, no one knew it would grow to become one of the premier neurodevelopmental disorder research facilities in the country, or the largest center specializing in autism spectrum disorders in Missouri.

Neuropsychologist Stephen Kanne, who was one of the original doctors who developed the resources for which the center is now renowned, will become the executive director of the Thompson Center on Sept. 1.

"The Thompson Center specializes in autism and neurodevelopmental disorders,” Kanne said. “Our clients are kids who are suspected of having autism."

The center also treats non-autistic children who have behavioral and developmental disorders, Kanne said.

Kanne began his medical career with the intention of becoming an adult neuropsychologist, treating Alzheimer's patients and other similar mental diseases.

Kanne said during the pediatric round of his medical fellowship, his love of families and children convinced him to work in the field of pediatric mental disorders.

After working for the Thompson Center in its early years, Kanne relocated to Baylor University, where he continued his studies on ASD and other specific genetic disorders relating to autism. Kanne had worked at MU for six years before leaving for his current position at the Texas Children's Hospital and Baylor University, according to an MU News release.

Kanne said he chose to return to MU because of his Missourian roots and the Thompson Center's participation in the Simons Simplex Complex project.

“I was one of the people who was present when the Thompson Center first opened,” Kanne said. ”I love Missouri, I was born and raised in St. Louis and it was compelling to go back. Those two (aspects) combined to make it perfect.”

The center is one of 13 research facilities in North America that have chosen to work together on the Simons Simplex Complex project.

Similar to the Human Genome Project, the project aims to use collected data points to discover the genetic causes of autism, particularly in families in which only one child is affected.

"If we can measure behavioral presentation and genetic profile, we can match and figure out different subtypes, genetically and behaviorally, in the hope of figuring out the genetic causes of autism," Kanne said.

At the Thompson Center alone there are more than 2,800 children involved in the Simons Simplex Complex project. These children are the only members of their families with autism. They were specifically handpicked for the program, and their DNA data sets are carefully collected, Kanne said.

With his return to MU, Kanne said he is most looking forward to bringing the Thompson Center to the next level and helping the facility reach its full potential as a premier program in the ever-growing field of autism research.

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