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Autism Speaks Awards 10 New Research Grants Funding Nearly $1.8 Million over Next Three Years

Global Autism Science and Advocacy Organization Advances Research Across the Lifespan for Children, Adolescents and Adults with Autism
New York, N.Y. (October 12, 2011) – Autism Speaks, the world’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, today announced the awarding of 10 new research grants totaling $1,782,934 in funding over the next three years. The selected studies will evaluate the effectiveness of a broad array of promising behavioral and medical treatments for core symptoms and associated medical issues in children, adolescents, and adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).

“This year’s treatment grants build on the exciting scientific progress of our last six years and take us in new directions with promising new interventions across the lifespan,” says Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geri Dawson, Ph.D. “We’re particularly excited to be supporting more studies involving relatively underserved populations including nonverbal children, preschool students in minority communities and working adults with autism.”

“The Autism Speaks research portfolio remains at the core of our support for individuals impacted with ASD and their families,” added Autism Speaks President Mark Roithmayr. “We know that validated research is critical in giving families confidence at many milestones throughout the lifespan of their loved one with ASD, whether they are seeking an initial diagnosis, treatments or therapies, or supports for the transition into and through life as an adult with ASD” he continued. “Without the incredible generosity of our community and corporate partners, and the funds raised at over 80 of Walk Now for Autism Speaks events throughout the year, this research would not be possible.”

Pilot Research Grants

Eight of the ten grants are for pilots studies aimed at bringing new investigators into the autism field, and to collect and develop preliminary data to jump start novel treatments. These pilot grants provide up to $60,000 a year for up to two years.

Three of the pilot projects address the needs of low-functioning, non-verbal individuals with autism by focusing on social engagement and language development:

  • At New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Gottfried Schaug, M.D., Ph.D., will conduct a randomized control trial of an innovative type of speech therapy called “Auditory Motor Mapping Training.” The therapy employs singing, motor activity, and imitation to activate brain regions associated with speech and has been used successfully with stroke victims suffering from loss of speech due to brain damage (aphasia).
  • At the University of Kansas, Nancy Brady, Ph.D., will study augmentative communication intervention aimed at improving word learning by nonverbal school-age children with autism.
  • At Michigan State University, Brooke Ingersoll, Ph.D., will investigate the effectiveness of reciprocal imitation training for low-functioning adolescents on the spectrum.

Three of the pilot level treatment studies specifically aim to improve the lives of adolescents and adults with autism along with their families.

  • Leanne Smith, Ph.D., at the University of Wisconsin, Waisman Center will test a family psychoeducation intervention, “Transitioning Together” which aims to provide support and education for families and adolescents with ASD, while reducing levels of distress and improve coping strategies during the transition to adulthood.
  • Lindee Morgan, Ph.D., at Florida State University will evaluate a novel treatment specifically designed for adults with ASD to teach social skills required to effectively participate in a job interview.
  • Finally, David Nicholas, Ph.D., from the University of Calgary will utilize Canada’s national database of care-provider surveys to identify and evaluate vocational service opportunities, determine the effectiveness of those services, and better understand the quality of life issues related to vocational services for adults on the spectrum in Canada. The ultimate goal of this project is to inform public policy regarding adult vocational services in Canada and the U.S.

The remaining pilot level treatment projects focus on seizure and sleep conditions which are often co-morbid in children with ASD.

  • At New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Aristea Galanopoulou, M.D., Ph.D., will study the role of mTOR inhibitors (proteins that regulate vital cell growth processes) on the treatment of autism symptoms in children with infantile seizures.
  • At the University of Colorado, Denver, Mark Laudenslager, Ph.D., will develop a measure of melatonin levels in saliva that can potentially be used as a biomarker to be employed as a practical and objective gauge to assess how children with autism who exhibit sleep disruptions respond to sleep interventions.

Full Level Treatment Grants

Two full-level treatment grants have been awarded to established investigators who will build on preliminary research findings to further understand and develop effective behavioral interventions for pre-school and school-aged children. These full-level grants were each awarded for $150,000 per year for three years ($450,000 total each).

  • Connie Kasari, Ph.D., from UCLA will utilize this grant to study implementation of an evidence-based early intervention for improving social and language communication outcomes in a urban, ethnically-diverse, community-based preschool setting. The intervention will be delivered by teachers, focusing specifically on underserved Hispanic children in Los Angeles.
  • Jeffery Wood, Ph.D., also at UCLA, who has pioneered the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for reducing anxiety symptoms associated with ASD, will now explore the efficacy of CBT for reducing core autism symptoms in school and home settings.

The Autism Speaks grant program is extremely effective. In its 2011 analysis of its grants program to date, Autism Speaks evaluated 158 grants which were awarded between 2006 and 2009 and were completed by the summer of 2010. Over 70% of these grants resulted in novel discoveries in biologic mechanisms, new technologies, biomarkers, better understanding of symptoms and co-morbidities and genetic risk factors. Of the fellows supported by Autism Speaks grants, 72 percent were new to the field of autism research and 84 percent were committed to remaining in the field of autism research.

To find out more about the grants funded today and other studies funded by Autism Speaks, please visit our Grant Search page. The funded grants were among the 86 submitted for consideration and evaluated by reviewers from the Treatment Advisory Board and supplemented by other highly qualified research scientists, clinicians, and parents.  The review panel was chaired by psychologist Lauren Bernstein Adamson, Ph.D., of Georgia State University.

About Autism
Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders – autism spectrum disorders – caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by social and behavioral challenges, as well as repetitive behaviors. An estimated 1 in 110 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum – a 600 percent increase in the past two decades that is only partly explained by improved diagnosis.

About Autism Speaks
Autism Speaks is North America’s largest autism science and advocacy organization. Since its inception in 2005, Autism Speaks has made enormous strides, committing over $160 million to research and developing innovative new resources for families. The organization is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. In addition to funding research, Autism Speaks has created resources and programs including the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network, Autism Speaks’ Autism Genetic Resource Exchange and several other scientific and clinical programs. Notable awareness initiatives include the establishment of the annual United Nations-sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, which Autism Speaks celebrates through its Light it Up Blue initiative. Also, Autism Speaks award-winning “Learn the Signs” campaign with the Ad Council has received over $286 million in donated media. Autism Speaks’ family resources include the Autism Video Glossary, a 100 Day Kit for newly-diagnosed families, a School Community Tool Kit, a Grandparent’s Guide to Autism, and a community grant program. Autism Speaks has played a critical role in securing federal legislation to advance the government’s response to autism, and has successfully advocated for insurance reform to cover behavioral treatments in 28 states thus far, with bills pending in an additional 11 states including New York. Each year Walk Now for Autism Speaks events are held in more than 80 cities across North America. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.

About the Co-Founders
Autism Speaks 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 Chairman and CEO of the Palm Beach Civic Association. He served as Vice Chairman of General Electric; and as the Chief Executive Officer of NBC and NBC Universal for more than twenty years. He also serves on the board of directors of the Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation, Mission Product, EMI Group Global Ltd., and AMC Networks Inc., and is a Trustee of the New York Presbyterian hospital.  Suzanne Wright is a Trustee Emeritus of Sarah Lawrence College, her alma mater. Suzanne has received numerous awards, the Women of Distinction Award from Palm Beach Atlantic University, the CHILD Magazine Children’s Champions Award, Luella Bennack Volunteer Award, Spirit of Achievement award by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine's National Women’s Division and The Women of Vision Award from the Weizmann Institute of Science. In 2008, the Wrights were named to the Time 100 Heroes and Pioneers category, a list of the most influential people in the world, for their commitment to global autism advocacy.  They have also received the first ever Double Helix Award for Corporate Leadership from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the NYU Child Advocacy Award, the Castle Connolly National Health Leadership Award and the American Ireland Fund Humanitarian Award.  In the past couple of years the Wrights have received honorary doctorate degrees from St. John’s University, St. Joseph’s University and UMass Medical School.