NEW YORK, NY (June 26, 2008) – Autism Speaks, the nation's largest organization dedicated to funding and facilitating autism research, announced today that it has awarded more than $3.8 million in grants to be paid out over the next three years to investigate a wide array of promising treatments for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). From a pool of over 120 applicants, thirteen innovative grant proposals were selected, including six proposals from Autism Speaks' first review session devoted solely to studies of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approaches.
The grants are intended to help address the urgent need to develop effective therapies to treat both the core and domain-specific features associated with ASD. The funding will support research focused on studying multiple treatment approaches, from biomedical to behavioral and technological, utilizing rigorous scientific trials. A key feature of many of these studies is to track multiple characteristics of participants in an attempt to discover which individuals are most likely to benefit from a specific therapy. This is vitally important given the growing awareness of the need to individualize treatments for people across the autism spectrum.
The CAM-related studies will explore the potential benefits of treatments such as vitamin B12 injections, omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, sensory-based interventions and acupuncture. Additionally, one of the studies will address the presence of oxidative stress markers in children with autism, while researchers in another study will survey parental and clinician attitudes toward the gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet in preparation for future studies of this dietary intervention.
Given its involvement in brain development, another research project will explore the possible role cholesterol plays in autism. Taking a cue from a rare cholesterol disorder in which affected individuals frequently have autistic traits, this research will determine whether cholesterol levels tend to be low in individuals with autism, and if simple dietary supplementation can affect behavior.
Several studies will address the efficacy of behavioral interventions. One project focuses on stereotypies, such as hand-flapping and body-rocking, that can consume a significant amount of time and attention in some individuals with autism, thus competing with their ability to learn. This study aims to recognize when motivation to engage in these behaviors is low during the day, and to see if these periods can be encouraged through different methods.
Another study will evaluate the effectiveness of integrated play groups, which provide an opportunity for children with autism to interact with their typically-developing peers. This study will also teach the typically-developing children about how best to interact with a peer who has autism in an effort to promote his or her inclusion and social development.
Other treatment projects selected for funding will investigate the benefits of special technological interventions. Three projects will test computer-assisted programs designed to help teach social skills. One uses an interactive “drama book” to teach the importance of speech prosody – the nuances of rhythm, loudness, and timing of speech that convey meaning, which can be hard to grasp for a person with autism.
“Autism Speaks is committed to expanding treatment options by supporting the work of innovative researchers,” said Dr. Geraldine Dawson, Chief Science Officer for Autism Speaks. “These grants will support high-quality research that approaches treatment in a variety of ways, but shares the common goal of enhancing the lives of individuals with ASD. As with any new treatment, it is imperative that these approaches be rigorously tested to ensure confidence in their safety and effectiveness.”
Lay abstracts describing the thirteen newly funded grants can be found on Autism Speaks' here.
In 2007, Autism Speaks awarded more than $30 million in science grants to fund research into the causes, prevention and treatments for autism. The organization will be announcing research grants in the basic/clinical categories in the coming weeks.
Autism is a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by extreme behavioral challenges. Autism spectrum disorders are diagnosed in one in 150 children in the United States, affecting four times as many boys as girls. The diagnosis of autism has increased tenfold in the last decade. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called autism a national public health crisis whose cause and cure remain unknown.
About Autism Speaks
Autism Speaks is dedicated to increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders, to funding research into the causes, prevention and treatments for autism, and to advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. It was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Bob Wright is Senior Advisor at Lee Equity Partners and served as vice chairman, General Electric, and chief executive officer of NBC and NBC Universal for more than twenty years. Autism Speaks merged with the Autism Coalition for Research and Education (ACRE), the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) and Cure Autism Now (CAN), bringing together the nation's leading autism advocacy organizations. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.