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March 29, 2013 2:50 pm

Israeli Autism Researcher Wins UNESCO Fellowship

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Israeli Dr. Osnat Penn's work examines the genetic origin of autism. Photo: Scott Vaughan via Wikimedia Commons.

Israeli scientist Dr. Osnat Penn—a postdoctoral researcher in computational biology at Tel Aviv University whose work examines the genetic origins of autism—has been awarded a 2013 UNESCO-L’Oréal International Fellowship for promising young female scientists, Israel Hayom reported. Penn, 32, and 14 other researchers worldwide were awarded the prestigious fellowships out of hundreds of candidates.

The fellowships are given to female scientists “whose promising research projects have a potential impact on human well-being and the environment.”

This is the third year in a row that an Israeli has received the fellowship, which comes with a $40,000 grant. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated Penn on her achievement, saying, “You have joined the prestigious and excellent club of Israeli female scientists.”

“Autism is known to have a hereditary component but scientists have had difficulty identifying the precise genetic causes. Computational biologist Osnat Penn plans to tackle this challenge by analyzing massive quantities of data obtained through genome sequencing,” the website for the international fellowship said. “She will use cutting-edge computer programs to compare the genomes of autism sufferers, their unaffected parents and thousands of unaffected people from populations around the world.”

“The goal is to identify the specific areas where the autism variation occurs in the human genome,” according to the website. “Her research is designed to help enable prenatal screening and early diagnosis of autism in children and could one day contribute to creating treatments for the disorder.”

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