Debunking autism myths rewarded with national prize

30 November 2022

A UQ PhD student has been awarded a national prize for debunking a common myth about children with autism.

Chloe Yap, from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience and Mater Research, won the 2022 CSL Florey Next Generation Award for busting the myth that the gut microbiome – the billions of bacteria that live in the gut - causes autism.

Ms Yap and her colleagues found that changes in the gut microbiome of children with autism are instead caused by their eating habits.

The study was the largest and most in-depth autism microbiome study to date for the Australian Autism Biobank.

“Our study provides clarity for families and clinicians and puts the focus on good diet rather than the false hope of experimental and expensive microbiome treatments,” Ms Yap said.

Ms Yap received the $20,000 award at the annual dinner of the Australian Association of Medical Research Institutes, at Parliament House in Canberra. 

“It's such an honour to receive this award, and it’s prompted me to reflect on this amazing and very lucky journey I have had over the eight years I’ve been involved with this project,” Ms Yap said.

“Most importantly for me, the award is recognition of the huge collaborative effort and fantastic team that was mobilised to produce a world-class resource in the Australian Autism Biobank - my PhD work has entirely been built upon this.”

Ms Yap is pursuing a career as a clinician-scientist, a role that helps enable rapid translation of research into new treatments but involves many years of training as she balances medical studies with her PhD.

“The award is validation that I have chosen the right path, and is encouragement to persist with it,” Ms Yap said.

Her interest in the microbiome of people with autism began as a first-year undergraduate student doing a summer internship with Professor Naomi Wray and Dr Jake Gratten

“I have immense gratitude for my long-time supervisors and "academic parents", Jake Gratten and Naomi Wray, who have supported me every step of the way.”

Ms Yap has previously been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and the 2021 QLD Women in STEM Award