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The World’s Largest Autism Project Gets Good Press

Posted by Robert Ring, PhD, Autism Speaks vice president of translational research.

I want to point out a recent review article published in the journal Nature Reviews: Drug Discovery. This article provides an excellent introduction to EU-AIMS, a massive five-year research program focused solely on autism. EU-AIMS, short for European Autism Interventions – A Multicentre Study for Developing New Medications, was launched earlier this year in Europe. The collaboration brings together in a non-competitive way 24 academic research center across Europe, global pharmaceutical companies and patient advocacy organizations in Europe. The collaboration will focus on accelerating the translation of basic science discoveries into medicines for autism.

There has never been a research project of this size and scope before in autism. Autism Speaks has a unique role to play in this historic program. EU-AIMS activities can be broken out into five separate lines of collaborative research (work packages). Each focuses on a different area of medical discovery or development. Members of the Autism Speaks science staff are providing scientific leadership within each of these work packages.

I’d like to point out a few examples of Autism Speaks’ participation in EU-AIMS and how they align with the strategic goals of our science mission.

Standardizing and managing data and results. For years, Autism Speaks has been a recognized leader in developing standards for coordinating and disseminating research and clinical information. From our Autism Genetic Research Exchange (AGRE) to the Autism Tissue Program (ATP), Autism Speaks has built some of the nation’s most important resource and data repositories. In EU-AIMS, we will be working to leverage our expertise and investments in this area to ensure similar types of research generated by EU-AIMS can be harmonized with databases in the U.S. This will create even greater value for the work we have already done in this area.

Developing and conducting clinical trials in individuals with autism. Clinical trials are necessary for demonstrating that new pharmaceutical agents are safe and effective for treating autism. At Autism Speaks, we have been a leader in efforts to improve and standardize the way researchers conduct clinical trials. EU-AIMS will focus on efforts to build up similar standards and protocols in Europe. Although Europe has a separate regulatory process overseeing clinical trial activity, there is enormous opportunity to leverage what Autism Speaks has been doing in the U.S. to help our colleagues bootstrap similar activities in Europe and avoid duplicating our efforts.  

Identifying biomarkers. The ability to diagnose disorders and study treatment effects in objective ways represents one of the most pressing challenges in psychiatry. This includes the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

A priority in the field of autism research is the discovery of markers that can be objectively measured to indicate the presence of autism and to identify individuals most likely to respond to a particular treatment. Objective markers, more commonly referred to as “biomarkers,” can also be used to measure a change in symptoms following treatment. Autism Speaks recently formed a partnership with Seaside Therapeutics (more here) to speed the discovery of such biomarkers.

EU-AIMS features an entire work package focused on biomarker discovery. Autism Speaks will help coordinate activities in Europe with those funded by our foundation and others in the U.S. Over the next five years, the duration of EU-AIMS, I look forward to updating you on the progress and highlights of this game-changing research collaboration.

Editor’s note: You can read more about EU-AIMS here.

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.