Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Institute of Medicine to Discuss Investigating Autism-Environment Link

The Forum on Neuroscience and Nervous Systems Disorders, a part of the Institute of Medicine in Washington, D.C., is hosting a workshop on April 18 and 19 to discuss research strategies for exploring the potential relationship between autism and the environment.

The two-day workshop is open to the public and comes at the request of U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt, according to the Institute of Medicine website (see it here, where you can access both a "statement of task" and a workshop agenda). The workshop will focus on these three questions:

  1. What are the most promising scientific opportunities for improving the understanding of potential environmental factors in autism?
  2. What scientific tools and technologies are available, what interdisciplinary research approaches are needed, and what further infrastructure investments will be necessary in the short- and long-term to be able to explore potential relationships between autism and environmental factors?
  3. What opportunities exist for public-private partnerships in the support and conduct of the research?

The agenda includes participants from government research bodies such as the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, as well as scientists and academics from institutions such as Vanderbilt University; the M.I.N.D. Institute from the University of California at Davis; Harvard Medical School; Mount Sinai School of Medicine; Columbia University; University of Arizona; the J. Craig Venter Institute for genomics research; Baylor College of Medicine; University of Rochester Medical Center. That's on the first day.

Autism advocates are also on the agenda, including Laura Bono, a board member of the National Autism Association and Sallie Bernard, the co-founder of SafeMinds, or Sensible Action for Ending Mercury-Induced Neurological Disorders, who is a board member at Autism Speaks.

This is interesting because both SafeMinds and the National Autism Association have criticized past statements by the Institute of Medicine that concluded there was no causal link between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism. You can view conclusions of a 2004 Institute of Medicine report here. SafeMinds has a list of press releases here that criticizes that finding and the authors of it, alleging conflicts of interest.

On its website (see here), the National Autism Association notes that this Institute of Medicine workshop, to be held right before a Defeat Autism Now (DAN) conference, formed with its leaders' participation. Here's what the group has to say:

Unlike the 2004 IOM Committee, the workshop group will not address causation or issue any formal recommendations. Also, it will not discuss the efficacy of any treatments. Rather, there will be presentations and discussions on strategies for research focusing on the potential relationship between autism and an array of environmental exposures.

A publicly available summary of the presentations and discussions made during the workshop will be prepared by a rapporteur and will reflect what transpired at the workshop. It will be published by the National Academies Press in the early Fall of 2007.

Laura Bono of the National Autism Association and Mark Blaxill of SafeMinds were two of three advocates invited to serve on the workshop planning committee. They were tasked with helping to develop the meeting agenda and presenters.

Laura and Mark made it their primary objective to direct the workshop toward the most relevant research areas to our community that have historically been overlooked by federal health agencies. In addition, Laura has been asked to give a statement at the workshop on the Perspectives of the Advocacy Community.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Looking into the environment is definetly the way to go, especially if they can investigate anywhere the evidence leads.