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NAAR Fosters International Research Partnership

Public & Private Sectors Provide More Than $21 million in Funding For the Search of Autism Genes
April 23, 2007

The National Alliance for Autism Research has helped develop a public/private partnership that is committing more than $21 million to fund research aimed at determining the genes associated with autism spectrum disorders.

NAAR is an integral part of this partnership of governmental health agencies and autism organizations that have recently issued a request for applications (RFA) focused on “Identifying Autism Susceptibility Genes.”

"This outstanding project is a tribute to the efforts of the autism advocacy community and the power of partnerships between government agencies and private citizens," said Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

The partnership is composed of NAAR, the National Institutes of Health (NIH);
the Irish Health Research Board

NAAR Fosters Public/Private Partnership Funding Autism Genetics Research

RFA: Identifying Autism Susceptibility Genes

Who's Who: Public/Private Partnership

Who's Who: Autism Genome Project

the Canadian Institutes of Health Research; the Cure Autism Now Foundation; and the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center. The organizations have collectively committed a total of $21.3 million to fund research focused on determining the genes associated with autism.

"We are thrilled and honored by the collaborative spirit this effort is fostering in both the research and autism communities,” said Glenn R. Tringali, CEO of NAAR. "Unraveling the genetics of autism demands a large, collaborative effort. Working together, governmental health agencies, researchers and autism organizations around the world have created that effort.”

NAAR has played a key role in the formation of this dynamic funding alliance through its support and development of the
Autism Genome Project
, an international collaboration of approximately 170 investigators from 50 academic and research institutions worldwide that have pooled approximately 6,000 multiplex DNA samples in a collaborative effort.

NAAR, working with the NIH over the past two years, has expanded the project to include research consortiums throughout North America and Europe. These efforts have been leveraged into a dynamic public/private partnership that includes governmental health agencies from three countries, which is providing the research community the resources it needs to determine the genes associated with autism.

Several applicants will likely apply for funding through this new RFA, including the research consortiums taking part in the Autism Genome Project. The partnership expects to announce the awards from this RFA by Fall 2005.

Strength in Numbers

It is highly unlikely, if not impossible, that one researcher or laboratory has the resources and expertise required to make the major breakthroughs required to solve the many mysteries of autism. The best opportunities for determining the causes of autism, developing more accurate diagnostic techniques, specific medical treatments and cures will occur more rapidly when researchers and organizations work together and share their collective resources.

This rationale has been the guiding inspiration behind the development of the Autism Genome Project and other public/private research collaborations between NAAR and the NIH, which focus on building partnerships and consortiums - a major theme of the NIH “Roadmap Initiative for Medical Research.”

The Autism Genome Project is designed to determine the genes associated with autism, which will ultimately enable doctors to biologically diagnose autism, definitively determine whether environmental factors contribute to autism and enable researchers to develop universal medical treatments and a cure.

Researchers taking part in the project are analyzing approximately 6,000 samples of DNA from 1,500 multiplex families (two children with autism spectrum disorders and their parents) from all over the world. The large sample size makes the Autism Genome Project by far the largest study of its kind ever conducted - and approximately three times larger than the largest previous autism genome studies.

The project was officially launched in July 2004, with the commencement of a genome scan funded by NAAR that utilized a promising new technology, the DNA micro-array, developed by the Santa Clara-based Affymetrix, Inc. The scan is being conducted at Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix. The project includes a second genome scan based on microsatellite technology that is being conducted by the Center for Inherited Disease Research (CIDR), a genotyping core facility affiliated with the National Human Genome Research Institute and supported by the NIH.

The origins of the Autism Genome Project can be traced to 2000, with NAAR's initial support of a single consortium of researchers (the Autism Genetics Cooperative). NAAR and the Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation co-funded a forum for the researchers to meet and discuss unpublished data. Over the past few years, additional research consortiums joined NAAR's autism genetics initiative. In 2003, the NIH committed its support to the project. Later that year, in November 2003, NAAR and the NIH officially unveiled the Autism Genome Project at the Autism Summit Conference in Washington, D.C. At the summit, the Hilibrand Foundation announced a $1 million pledge to the project, becoming the first major donor to the Autism Genome Project from the private sector.

For the first phase of the project, the NIH invested $2.5 million and NAAR has committed $2 million.