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Autism Speaks Launches Research Program Aimed At Scientists New To The Field Of Autism

The Request For Proposals Represents Autism Speaks First Scientific Initiative Since Its Founding in February of 2005; Dana Foundation to Assist in Administering Grant Requests

(November 15, 2005—New York, NY) Autism Speaks announced today that is initiating a grant program targeted at established scientists new to the field of autism at leading medical and research institutions. The Dana Foundation will assist in administering this first round of grants. The organization is encouraging the autism community to widely share the request for proposals with others and to encourage colleagues in the research field to apply to become an inaugural grantee.

“The objective of this request for proposals is to encourage established scientists in any of a variety of disciplines to take on the challenge of autism and begin to answer questions that will lead to better diagnosis, prevention and treatment of this disorder,” said Dr. Gary Goldstein, President and CEO of the Kennedy Krieger Foundation and Chief Scientific Advisor to Autism Speaks. “To achieve this goal, we anticipate that investigators new to autism research may seek collaborations with clinical autism centers or one of several tissue or blood banks that have relevant clinical materials. We understand that fruitful projects may involve collaborations with institutions outside of the home base of the principal investigator.” Autism Speaks anticipates a sustained relationship of funding to investigators with promising results.

During the past decade, there has been an enormous increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism. While once thought to be a rare disorder, autism is now being diagnosed in 1 in 104 boys and 1 in 166 children. Diagnosis is made by three years of age in most cases and represents a heterogeneous syndrome with delays and often regressions in social interaction and communication skills. Repetitive and at times self-injurious behavior is also part of the symptom complex. To date there is no biomedical test for the disorder and, despite well-defined increases in the familial occurrence of autism, there is no identified genetic abnormality in most cases. There is a strong suspicion of genetic vulnerabilities interacting with environmental exposure.

Autism Speaks recognizes the need for new approaches to making an objective diagnosis of autism, studies to explore exposures that might trigger autism in susceptible populations, and the applications of the latest technologies to identify the basis for familial susceptibility to autism. Intensive behavioral therapies are generally accepted to improve the outcome of autism in some children, especially when begun in early life.

Studies to build on these successes and to better understand the predictors of who may or may not respond to behavioral therapy, and what augmentations to current therapies might improve the success rate, are certainly appropriate. These are a few examples of areas that would benefit from additional investigations.

Autism Speaks will begin funding selected grants in July 2006 and intends to provide ongoing support to successful investigators. Specific information regarding requirements and deadlines for filing applications can be found at Autism Speaks web site.

Autism Speaks is a not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) organization devoted to educating the public about autism, facilitating and funding research, motivating private and governmental resources, and, ultimately, finding a cure for autism. It was founded in February 2005 by Bob and Suzanne Wright. Bob Wright is the Vice Chairman and Executive Officer, General Electric and Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, NBC Universal.

The Dana Foundation is a private, philanthropic organization with particular interests in brain science, immunology and arts education.