- Associated Press - Friday, September 29, 2017

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - With two new conference rooms, more space for research and room to expand, leaders at the Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders see plenty of opportunities.

The Thompson Center, which is part of the University of Missouri, expanded to increase its footprint and accomplish more research, Executive Director Stephen Kanne told the Columbia Daily Tribune .

“We already have established ourselves very strongly in the area of clinical work,” Kanne said. “We have a long history now of engaging in some cutting edge research but we want that to grow.”

On the research side, The Thompson Center provides a place and tools for researchers to do their work.

“We do DNA work. We do mouse models. We also do stress stuff. We also do virtual reality stuff. We develop new measures,” Kanne said. “So there’s researchers from all across campus that work with us. What we do is put the home, if you will, for these people to work together.”

Before the opening of the new facility, the research, training and clinical care were done in the same building.

“Whenever we wanted to do a research project with a child or with multiple children coming in, they’d have to use up some of the clinic rooms,” said Thompson Center spokesman Nathan Hurst. “Those rooms were crossed off and we couldn’t be treating patients in them.”

Kanne believes that the new facility will help with recruiting researchers.

“It’s all convenient and it’s dedicated, that’s the key,” he said.

The new space includes two new conference rooms in addition to the one in the original building. This conference rooms, which feature video-conferencing technology, allow for more people to be trained at once.

“Now we can have, instead of 30 people over for a training, we can have 200 people over to be trained at a time,” Hurst said.

For Kanne, the larger conference rooms will help create a sense of community between the people being trained.

“There’s so much difference when you get everyone in the same room physically together, because then they start talking to each other and networking,” Kanne said. “So you get this whole different level of training and relationships that draws the entire state together in a way that you wouldn’t be able to do if you just did it separately.”

In January 2016, the state gave the Thompson Center $5 million for expansion. Currently, the center only uses a portion of the first floor of the new building. The top floor and part of the first floor is rented by private businesses.

Owning the whole building “just means for the future, for the next 10 years, we have opportunities to grow,” Kanne said. “So on the research side, hiring more researchers at MU for autism means they can actually have a place to live, which is here, and do the work.”

The Thompson Center, established in 2005, is one of two research centers in the state, so the center’s research creates a draw for families of autistic children.

“I did want Elizabeth to participate in the research because I think it’s important,” said Veronica Carroll, whose 4-year-old daughter Elizabeth participates in research. “I think any time you can better our world for the next generation or the next child down the way that it’s our responsibility as parents to do so.”

For Kanne the new facility will increase the Thompson Center’s profile.

“For a while there, the Thompson Center was this unknown jewel for Columbia,” Kanne said. “We were better known nationally than we were locally and regionally. Now, the more and more things like this kind of happen, people in Columbia know that we’re here and I think have a better appreciation for the impact for we’re having across the country in what we do.”


Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune, https://www.columbiatribune.com

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