Spotlight Story

Elizabeth Fox
Helping families and children with autism spectrum disorders

Elizabeth Fox is a Ph.D. candidate at UC Davis working in the laboratory of Dr. Judy Van de Water. She received her bachelor of science in microbiology at UC Santa Barbara, where she was first introduced to the field of immunology. Her fascination and enthusiasm for the subject drove her to pursue an advanced degree. Fox was attracted to UC Davis by the diverse, interdisciplinary nature of the immunology research conducted here.  

What’s important about your research—and where do you hope to take it? 

My research focuses on the maternal humoral immune system during pregnancy and its effects on neurodevelopment, specifically, elucidating the role of maternal autoantibodies in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). With the exception of limited genetic testing, there is currently no medical test to determine the risk of having a child with autism. Moreover, ASD diagnosis and subtype stratification relies entirely on behavioral domains, which has made diagnosis of the disorder difficult and has been inadequate in constructing etiologically homogenous subgroups needed to move the field forward. Upon completion, my research will provide more specific ASD biomarkers, which will promote the development of better clinical tests to determine ASD diagnosis and risk. Further, these studies will aid in developing therapeutics for ASD, which are increasingly necessary due to the soaring incidence of the disorder.

What are you most passionate about in your work?

I am most passionate about helping others. My research has given me the opportunity to help families and children with ASD, and has inspired me to continue using the knowledge and skills I obtained in graduate school to make a larger impact on the population.

How will in the Business Development Fellows program help you to change the world?

In my time as a graduate student, I have become increasingly aware of the growing need to have more scientists involved in the government. This program will provide me with the skills needed to not only translate my research, but to also enable me to effect policy change in my field. In many aspects, the government is run much like a business, and the traditional PhD program does not provide the opportunity to develop the skill set needed to properly use scientists in this capacity. I believe this program will help me change the world because it will make me a well-rounded scientist; it will increase my business acumen and better equip me to use my scientific expertise and critical thinking to shape public policy. This will in turn, help me accomplish my ultimate goal of improving our country and positively impacting the population.