A $2.9 million, six-year partnership between the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) and the Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction (INMHA) of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) aims to train the next generation of researchers and uncover the mysteries of autism – a brain disorder with no known cure. The partnership includes $300,000 from the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec (FRSQ).
A Canadian first, the mentor-based programs, principally based at McGill and Queen's universities in Canada, take a multi-disciplinary approach to foster investigations into the genetics underlying autism and the epidemiology of the disorder. They will also address the importance of delivering effective treatment options to those with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and their families.
“Across North America parents and researchers are telling us about the difficulty in finding experts in autism,” said Dr. Eric London, NAAR's co-founder and Vice President of Medical Affairs. “There are currently not enough specialists in autism and the situation is much worse than many think. Hopefully we can change this situation with partnerships that pool resources and foster collaborations between governments and the autism community.”
This initiative is part of CIHR's 2003 Strategic Training Initiative in Health Research. Competition results were announced this summer by Honorable Anne McLellan, Minister of Health – with a total of $54 million funding for 33 innovative trans-disciplinary research training projects in Canada.
“The government of Canada is committed to ensure that the next generation of researchers have the necessary tools at their disposal to encourage innovation and discovery,” said Liz Frulla, member of Parliament for Verdun-Saint-Henri- Saint-Paul-Pointe Saint-Charles. “We believe that supporting health research will improve the quality of life for Canadians and those who are affected by autism spectrum disorders.”
Two autism training programs will be led by:
- Dr. Jeanette Holden, a professor in the departments of Psychiatry and Physiology at Queen's University with over 21 years experience in the field.
- Dr. Eric Fombonne, the head of Psychiatry at the Montreal Children's Hospital site of the McGill University Health Centre. The McGill component is supported by the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec (FRSQ).
“We have to ensure the future of health research by encouraging and supporting the next generation of researchers,” said Dr. Rémi Quirion, INMHA's Scientific Director. “This kind of program allows the best possible research to thrive in Canadian institutions and further develops Canada's expertise. Another exciting element is the partnership with our US neighbors who have invested in Canadian research.”
Autism displays a wide spectrum of symptoms and disability affects people of all racial, social and economic backgrounds. Those who suffer from autism are often robbed of the ability to communicate, to form emotional bonds and to engage in social interaction. Trainees will be led by a group of 45 mentors from 17 institutions across Canada and the US. Collectively, their expertise ranges from ASDs to other fields such as neuropathology, imaging and immunology.
This six-year commitment to the Autism Training Programs is one of the latest additions to NAAR's research portfolio focusing on mentor-based fellowships. In just the last two years, NAAR has committed nearly $2 million to fund fellowships for pre- and post-doctoral candidates who benefit from the mentorship of prominent researchers.
“We believe our investments in autism research training will grow exponentially as many of our fellows later assume teaching roles and join departments around the country and the world, which currently have no representation in autism research,” said Dr. London. "And that cannot happen fast enough."