Sunday, August 12, 2007

Federal Research Grants Show Intensified Effort to Find Autism Clues, Treatments, NIH Says

The research grants recently announced by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) add up to $66 million over the next five years, and the round of funding -- plus a second round next year -- demonstrates the federal government's commitment to finding causes and new treatments for autism spectrum disorders, according to the agency's program manager for autism research.

"It shows the NIH's commitment to intensify our efforts to find causes and new treatments for autism," said Alice Kau, program manager for autism at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a section of the NIH.

The grants announced Aug. 2 went to six universities around the country; in total, the researchers will receive about $13.3 million per year for the next five years, Kau said in an interview with Autism Bulletin. The NIH soon will begin evaluating another group of grant funding applications and plans to announce another round of research awards in 2008, which will increase the agency's spending on autism research to approximately $24 million annually, she said.

The research awards this year, and in 2008, represent an effort to establish "autism centers of excellence" or "ACEs" and to consolidate two existing research programs, called STAART, or Studies to Advance Autism Research and Treatment, and CPEA, or Collaborative Programs of Excellence in Autism. (See the press release from Aug. 2 here.)

The STAART program established eight research centers around the country: Boston University, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Mt. Sinai Medical School, University of California at Los Angeles, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Rochester, University of Washington and Yale University. This website about the STAART program has more background about the research going on at some of these facilities, including outpatient studies that examine relationship building interventions, drug trials and the relationship between behavior and diet in young children.

This website has more information about the CPEA research efforts, including the status of specific research projects (whether peer-reviewed papers have been published yet, for example). These research efforts are exploring a range of issues, including genetic traits of autism and whether there's a causal link between the Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccine and autism spectrum disorders. The website indicates it was last updated in September 2006.

Of course, the research takes time before it yields results that affect the lives of people with autism and families of those people. Kau said we'll have to wait a while before we see the results of these and other research studies about autism. "It's still very exciting," she said of the latest funding round.

Also see:

* National Institutes of Health Reorganizes Autism Research Program, from Autism Bulletin

* Autism Activities at NIH, federal government website last updated October 2006.

* National Institutes of Health, press release from October 25, 2001, "New Children's Environmental Health Centers to Study Causes of Autism and Other Disorders," link here.

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