Autism Speaks Awards $1.1 Million to Fund High Priority Studies

Expedited Funding and Research Will Study Differences in DSM-IV and Proposed DSM-5; Suzanne and Bob Wright Trailblazer Grant Seeks to Improve Quality of Life for Those Hypersensitive to Noise; and Environmental Health Study will Evaluate Impact of Flame Retardants on Immune System

New York, N.Y. (March 26, 2012) – Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, today announced the award of new research grants totaling $1.1 million in funding to support high priority studies. “Suzanne and I are extraordinarily proud of Autism Speaks’ continued funding for novel research projects which have tremendous potential to open new avenues to understanding autism,” said Autism Speaks Co-founder Bob Wright.

A one-year DSM-IV/DSM-5 prevalence study by Yale University researcher Young Shin Kim, M.D., M.S., M.P.H., Ph.D., will assess how proposed changes to the diagnostic criteria of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) will affect prevalence estimates and potential eligibility for autism-related services. This study will use a total population approach to include both clinical and non-clinical ASD populations, and systematic standardized screening and diagnostic assessment. It will utilize the sample from their recently published Korean ASD prevalence study in a cost and time efficient epidemiological approach to compare DSM-IV and DSM-5 diagnoses.

A Suzanne and Bob Wright Trailblazer Award was granted to researcher Mark Atherton, Ph.D., at Brunel University (Uxbridge, UK) for a one-year study on how selective noise cancellation technology can improve quality of life for many people who are affected by both autism and sound sensitivities.Many children and adults with autism have unusual responses to even normal sound levels in their environment, with particular sounds causing distress or even triggering challenging behaviors. Currently available and practical responses are rudimentary, with sound-blocking ear protectors being the most common. This project explores the potential of noise cancellation technology to selectively attenuate the sounds that people with autism find challenging, testing its suitability in a range of day-to-day settings and its ability to be configured to address the sound sensitivities of each individual. If successful, the project would open the way to a technological intervention that will greatly enhance quality of life for those with autism by addressing what many find a disabling characteristic for children and adults with ASD. Autism Speaks launched its Suzanne and Bob Wright Trailblazer Awards to support highly novel “out of the box” autism-relevant research.

Isaac Pessah, Ph.D., from University of California-Davis Center for Children’s Environmental Health, was awarded a one-year grant to expand his environmental health workto determine how certain flame retardants (PBDEs) interact with the immune system in ways that may interfere with prenatal development and increase autism risk. Dr. Pessah’s study will follow two lines of investigation. Animals exposed to PBDE during gestation will be evaluated focusing on behavioral endpoints relevant to autism and immunohistochemical findings. In addition blood samples will be taken from children affected and not affected by ASD to evaluate immune system response to PBDEs. This study seeks better understanding of the mechanisms involved in disruption of the immune system in ASD, especially environmental factors which exacerbate or trigger an immune response. Findings may not only identify modifiable risk factors, but better focus research attention on more targeted biomarkers.

Additional funding was provided to extend the scope of several ongoing studies of significance to Autism Speaks. Martin Knapp, Ph.D., from the London School of Economics, Kings College London and David Mandell, Sc.D., of the University of Pennsylvania will add a second year to their joint effort to update current estimates of autism’s economic costs, taking into account the effects on economic costs and benefits of intensive preschool behavioral interventions and vocational interventions that increase independence during the transition to adulthood.

As part of Autism Speaks “Move the Needle” initiative, which seeks to lower the average age of autism diagnosis and expand the delivery of high-quality early interventions, additional funding has been granted to Sally Rogers, Ph.D., at University of California-Davis and Annette Estes, Ph.D., at the University of Washington to support a two-site study enhancing parent-implemented early interventions. Their work will evaluate the adequacy of parent training and support to implement home-based interventions in the course of daily routines for accelerating their children's progress.

Lastly, an international analysis of ASD prenatal risk factors using disease registry systems in seven countries is funded through the International Collaboration for Autism Registry Epidemiology (iCARE).

“These targeted research projects are focusing on questions that are important to our community – such as what the effect of the DSM-5 is on diagnosis, how does the environment affect risk for autism, and what is the cost savings of providing early intervention,” says Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D. “None of these projects would be possible without support from our community. We are so thankful for that support.”

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 the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization. Since its inception in 2005, Autism Speaks has made enormous strides, committing over $173 million to research and developing innovative 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 $316 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 29 states thus far, with legislation continuing to advance in more states. Each year Walk Now for Autism Speaks events are held in more than 95 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 and is a graduate of the College of Holy Cross and the University of Virginia School of Law. 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.