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Keck School autism investigator elected to Institute of Medicine

Pat Levitt examines the genetic and environmental interactions that increase the risk for neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders. (Photo/Gregory Mancuso)

Autism expert Pat Levitt, Provost Professor of pediatrics, neuroscience, psychiatry, psychology and pharmacy at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, has been elected as a member of the prestigious Institute of Medicine (IOM), part of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This election is a great and very rare honor. It recognizes my career in research that, in some way, is viewed by my peers as impacting medicine and those who depend on scientific discovery to improve the lives of their children and families,” said Levitt, who is also director of the Neuroscience Graduate program at USC and an investigator with USC Stem Cell.

The IOM is an independent, nongovernmental organization that provides peer-reviewed, evidence-based information to help inform health and science policy. Each year, the membership nominates and elects up to 70 distinguished professionals to join the institute. Election is based on career accomplishments, as well as the willingness to remain actively involved with issues such as health care, disease prevention, medical education and research.

“Provost Professor Levitt is an exceptional leader in the field of basic and translational neuroscience,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias.  “His election to the IOM speaks to the tremendous influence and importance of his research on autism, as well as the outstanding depth of USC’s strengths in the sciences.”

Levitt’s work concentrates on the developing brain, specifically the components associated with learning, and emotional and social behavior. He examines the genetic and environmental interactions that increase the risk for neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia.

“By creating groundbreaking research across a number of society’s most influential new fields, Provost Professor Levitt is a prominent voice in the areas of brain development and disorders, who demonstrates a firm commitment to advancing the health and well-being of children — particularly those with autism,” said Elizabeth Garrett, USC provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “USC is delighted by his election to the prestigious Institute of Medicine and the scholarly collaborations in which he will participate that are aimed at improving quality of life for people around the world.”

Levitt is inaugural director of the Developmental Neurogenetics Program of the Institute for the Developing Mind (IDM) within The Saban Research Institute at Keck School-affiliated Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA).

“We are so pleased that the Institute of Medicine has recognized Pat Levitt’s contributions to our understanding of the fundamentals of neurocognitive development and the environmental influences on outcome,” said Brent Polk, executive committee member of USC Stem Cell, director of The Saban Research Institute and physician in chief at CHLA. “His dedication and expertise in the field of neuroscience, as well as his role in the Institute for the Developing Mind will provide valuable insights to the Institute of Medicine and the national health agenda.”

Levitt recently published a paper on the impact of oxidative stress on the severity of autism symptoms and hopes to use his research to develop better diagnostic criteria and personalized treatments for children.

“I hope that our research on the role of genetic and environmental factors that impact brain development will contribute to a better understanding of the causes, and possible preventions, of disorders impacting children, such as autism,” Levitt said. “As director of the Developmental Neurogenetics Program, I expect to help the incoming director of the IDM to recruit the very best and brightest researchers in our field to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.”

Levitt is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and chairman of the Association’s neuroscience division. He also serves as scientific director of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, a consortium that brings together leading researchers in developmental neuroscience to advise industry leaders on program investments.

He has published more than 260 academic papers on autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders, and he is currently on the research advisory board for the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network.

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Keck School autism investigator elected to Institute of Medicine

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