Last weekend scientific leaders joined with Cure Autism Now supporters for the annual meeting of Cure Autism Now's Scientific Advisory Board. Armed with determination and a "can-do" attitude, the advisory board reviewed over 125 grants. To put this number in perspective, in 2002 Cure Autism Now received 49 grant proposals. That means that there are three times as many scientists interested in solving autism this year than there were a few years ago.
"What impressed me," said Cure Autism Now Scientific Review Council member Ted Abel, "was the very high quality of the grants received. This means that we have really reached a point in the field of autism research that is focused on understanding the symptoms, the genetics and the underlying mechanisms of this disorder and beginning to develop some ideas for treatment from this body of knowledge."
"As a parent of a child with autism, this meeting was very empowering. The idea that so many outstanding scientists are interested in autism makes me hopeful that my son will be better able to overcome the obstacles that he will encounter as he grows up. As a neuroscientist myself, it was great to hear the heated discussions about promising new findings and ideas for diagnosis and treatment."
Utilizing the National Institutes of Health processes, research grant applications received by CAN are reviewed and scored by the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB).The SAB is composed of outstanding researchers and clinicians representing a myriad of disciplines relevant to autism research. Although experienced in their own areas, these scientists are often new to the field of autism research and therefore do not bring preconceived ideas to the review process. This board's primary responsibility is to review the grants submitted for scientific merit.
When Cure Autism Now began the process of funding grants, decisions were made based solely on the SAB's qualitative rankings. However, after experiencing the frustration of watching seemingly beneficial proposals passed over because of concerns such as diagnostic procedures, statistical power or the experience of the investigators, CAN's founders realized that another mechanism would be necessary to change the state of autism research.
In May of 2000, Portia Iversen and Dr. David Baskin formed the Scientific Review Council. The Scientific Review Council plays a unique role in setting the direction of the Foundation's scientific research and leveraging research dollars. Comprised of parents or other family members of people with autism who are also researchers or physicians, their personal dedication and relevant expertise help them to prioritize Cure Autism Now's research goals, objectives, and initiatives.
The Council relies on the skills and insights of the SAB's highly qualified reviewers, and adds to the process the ability to determine if the science funded is relevant and represents a balanced pool of research projects. The SRC demands the research it funds to answer a question about autism that has the potential for a specific impact on scientific understanding of the disorder, whether biological or clinical.
Today we have the highly focused attention of 125 scientists, hoping to do autism research, and this does not include the hundreds of others who are already hard at work, funded by Cure Autism Now, the National Institutes of Health, and others. What this means is that a foundation of critically important data is rapidly accumulating, upon which the discoveries we all hope and pray for, will be made.
"It is amazing that Cure Autism Now has raised the amount of money necessary to support these grants," Dr. Abel stated. "It is also important to realize that there are more grants that were rated as worthy of funding than Cure Autism Now is able to support-- so we all need to WALK NOW and raise more money to support research."
Cure Autism Now will make a formal grant announcement of funded projects within 60 days.