NIH awarded nine awards for $100 million over five years to research Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The disorders are complex developmental disorders affecting how a person behaves, interacts with others, communicates, and learns. According to CDC, ASD affects approximately one in 88 children in the U.S.
NIH created the Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) in 2007 to launch an intense and coordinated research program into the causes of ASD and to find new treatments. “The ACE programs support the broad research goals of the Interagency Coordinating Committee Strategic Plan for ASD research,” said Alice Kau, PhD with the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Branch at NICHD.
According to Dr. Kau, the NICHD program has expanded to study children and adults who have limited communication skills or are unable to speak, possible links between ASD and other genetic syndromes, potential treatments, and the reason why ASD is more common among boys than girls.
ACE institutions are required to collect data using common methods and to submit all data to NIH’s National Database for Autism Research (NDAR). The database is in place to enable the seamless integration of data, research tools, and research projects from institutions around the world with the objective to increase the efficiency of ACE research.
Susan Bookheimer PhD at the University of California as one of the awardees will use brain imaging technology to chart brain development among individuals with genes suspected of contributing to ASD. The research team hopes to link genetic variants to distinct patterns of brain development, structure, and function in ASDs.
In another awarded project, Joseph Piven, M.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill preciously used brain imaging to show atypical brain development at age 6 months in infants who were later diagnosed with ASD. The group now plans to follow another group of infants at risk for ASD and do more frequent scans throughout infancy and until age two.
Abraham Reichenberg, PhD and his team at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City are going to attempt to understand how genetic and environmental factors influence the development of autism. They will analyze detailed records and biospecimens from 4.5 million births involving 20,000 cases of ASD from seven countries spanning three generations.
Yale University will work with a team of researchers from Yale, UCLA, Harvard, and the University of Washington. They will focus on a larger sample of girls with autism to study genes, brain function, and behavior throughout childhood and adolescence to identify causes of ASD and develop new treatments.
Go to www.nichd.nih.gov/research/supported/ace.cfm for more information on the ACE research program.