By Liz Bell
On a sunny weekend in early September, three dozen scientists from across the United States met in Los Angeles and volunteered their time to help move the state of autism research to a new level.
Spearheaded by Chair Pat Levitt, Ph.D. and Cure Autism Now Science Director Sophia Colamarino, Ph.D., and aided by the written scores and commentary of another 25 long distance reviewers, the Cure Autism Now Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) reviewed a variety of research grant applications. The 58 Pilot Project and 18 Young Investigator proposals under discussion spanned a breadth of research areas, including early identification, epidemiology, environmental factors, cognitive measures, immune function, molecular mechanisms, genetics and possible model systems.
According to Dr. Colamarino, the amazing increase in interest from a variety of disciplines and exceptional researchers marks an exciting trend in the field. ”This is what CAN has been pushing toward. The swell of interest in autism is so gratifying. Our grant requests hit a record and nearly doubled in one year.” In a dramatic increase over 2005, this spring CAN received almost 300 letters of intent to submit a biology research proposal. Based on the ideas presented in the letters of intent, approximately one third of these were invited to submit full grant requests. It was also exciting to note that many of the applications were from researchers who are new to the field of autism research, or new applicants to Cure Autism Now, and many of the proposed studies exhibited increasing sophistication and quality of a caliber that would be worthy of funding from the National Institutes of Health.
Following the SAB discussions and rankings of scientific merit, the Scientific Review Council evaluates the proposals from the perspective of clinicians and researchers who are also family members of individuals with autism. The SRC selects grants based upon the quality of the science, as well as the contribution the study could make to the body of scientific knowledge that will lead to preventive measures, treatments for affected individuals, and ultimately, a cure. Cure Autism Now is currently finalizing contracts for the grants that were approved, and a description of this broad body of research will be forthcoming. The CAN advisory boards will next be meeting in the spring in order to review the separate round of Treatment Grant submissions.
We greatly appreciate your support in helping to make this research possible, and the ongoing dedication and creativity of our Scientific Advisory Board and Scientific Review Council, who ensure that our resources are focused on finding answers that will lead us on the path to a cure.