Spartan Family’s Generosity Brings Genetic Autism Expert to MSU

April 25, 2024


Genetic autism expert recruited to Grand Rapids as the Mall Family professor

A $2 million investment at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine by the Mall Family Foundation has empowered the recruitment of genetic autism research expert Lucas Pozzo-Miller, PhD, to MSU as the inaugural Mall Family Endowed Professor in Genetic Autism Research.

“The Mall family’s commitment to advancing and treating genetic autism has helped us to successfully recruit one of the nation’s top experts to MSU with the magnet of endowed funding,” said MSU College of Human Medicine Dean Aron Sousa, MD. “The innovations we anticipate seeing will surely advance human health, and we are incredibly excited at the research possibilities.”

The Mall Family Foundation was formed in 2007 to support a wide variety of education, community and health-related nonprofits, and for more than a decade, has been an essential partner in supporting MSU genetic autism research. The Mall’s grandson was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in 2003, which has served as a deep personal motivation for making MSU funding commitments.

“We are so excited at the research possibilities, and with Dr. Pozzo-Miller being right here in Grand Rapids, we feel incredibly hopeful,” Tom Mall said. “The recent advances employed by MSU’s research team in big data, AI technology, and genetic editing using CRISPR technology brings us more confidence that autism can be conquered.”

Lucas Pozzo-Miller headshot.Coming to MSU last December from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he led a lab team of neuroscientists over the last 25 years, Pozzo-Miller’s research is primarily focused on the neurobiological bases of syndromic forms of autism caused by single gene variants, combining cutting-edge experimental approaches. As a lead scientific investigator at MSU, Pozzo-Miller will shed new light on autism, to aid in understanding and development of interventions to ultimately help those affected.

Autism or autism spectrum disorder, also known as idiopathic non-syndromic autism, is a complex brain development disorder that affects a person’s behavior, and their social and communication skills. There is no known single cause of idiopathic autism, current scientific knowledge points to complex interactions between genetic susceptibilities with toxic environmental exposures.

When deciding to come to MSU from UAB, Pozzo-Miller says his number one reason was joining the MSU research team in Grand Rapids—a skilled team of developmental neuroscience researchers (Dan Campbell, Dan Vogt, Barbara Thompson, Michael Williams and Jeff MacKeigan) plus disease expert Andre Bachmann, PhD, who discovered in 2022 that repurposing an existing prescription drug could successfully treat a rare genetic disorder—and accessing partnerships with the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital; the knowledge and technical capacity at the Van Andel Institute; and MSU’s nationally-recognized centers of excellence in neuroscience research.

Right now, there is no cure for idiopathic autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and the disorder is common — 1 in 36 (2.8%) 8-year-old children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder according to the CDC.

“There are complex factors leading to an autism diagnosis, and as one of the leading autism research departments in the country, we are collectively working to share accurate, fact-based information with the autism community,” said MSU Department of Pediatrics Chair Keith English, MD. “We also know that repurposing drugs saves precious time and money, making it possible to arrive at solutions much faster.”

This convergence of knowledge, partnerships and philanthropy uniquely positions the College of Human Medicine to positively impact genetic autism research. Other MSU assets include the college’s statewide partnerships with 13 community hospitals, and a national database housed at MSU containing over 30 years of data.

 Watch the Q&A with Dr. Pozzo-Miller on Autism Research

Autism Research in the news

Wood TV: Expert: Autism statistics difficult to interpret

To learn more about genetic autism research at MSU, please contact the MSU College of Human Medicine Office of Advancement at

By Sarah Enlow