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IMFAR Conference Highlights

Researchers Come Together to Discuss Autism
April 23, 2007


Autism researchers from around the world, including many National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR)-funded scientists presented their research on topics ranging from early diagnosis, development and intervention, to brain imaging, environmental influences, genetics, and co-morbid disorders at the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR). This year's gathering, co-sponsored by NAAR, was held in Boston, Massachusetts May 6 through 8.


Several clinicians and researchers, including Drs. Gillian Baird, Lisa Croen and Patrick Bolton, identified factors which may contribute to differences in symptom severity and long-term prognosis in individuals affected with autism, such as early language regression behavioral associations, as well as other factors including psychiatric disorders, medical problems, and environmental exposures may either influence proper diagnosis or predict outcome.
Several members of the NAAR Baby Sibs Consortium, including Drs. Bryson, Chawarska, Fein, Landa, Lord, Ozonoff, Rogers, Stone, and Zwaigenbaum presented their data, aiming to both detail and specify early diagnostic markers which may positively identify children with autism at 12-24 months of age, and to assess intervention strategies in toddlers diagnosed with autism.

Studies led by Drs. Helen Tager-Flusburg and Robert Schultz demonstrated structural and functional abnormalities in brain areas corresponding to impairments in facial recognition and language in order to ascertain changes in brain size, function and circuitry associated with autism. Analysis of brain function on a cellular level was carried out by investigators who received tissue supplied by the Autism Tissue Program (ATP). Data from Drs. David Amaral, Gene Blatt, and Christoph Schmitz in both the United States and the Netherlands examined changes in neuron number as well the proteins that are expressed on those neurons in areas such as the amygdala, cortex and cerebellum, providing a neurobiological explanation of behaviors associated with autism, including social and motor dysfunction.

Since NAAR's founding in 1994, the number of scientists working in autism research has increased dramatically. NAAR's funding of pilot studies, fellowships and collaborative research projects like ATP and Baby Sibs have provided opportunities attracting new scientists and scientists previously studying in other areas. A meeting like IMFAR could only have been imagined a decade ago – NAAR is proud to co-sponsor the International Meetings for Autism Research.

Established in 1994, the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) is the first non-profit organization in the country dedicated to funding and accelerating biomedical research for autism spectrum disorders. The organization was established by parents of children with autism concerned about the limited amount of funding for autism research. To date, NAAR has committed nearly $30 million in grants for biomedical research projects worldwide that seek to find the causes, prevention, effective treatments and, ultimately, cure for autism spectrum disorders. Walk for Autism Research is the organization's signature fundraising and autism awareness event, which is held annually in numerous communities across the United States. Additionally, NAAR was instrumental in establishing the Autism Tissue Program, a parent-led brain tissue donation program for autism research.