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Autism Speaks Awards Nearly $1.8 Million in Autism Treatment Study Grants

October 12, 2011

Autism Speaks is pleased to announce $1,783,000 in new funding for ten outstanding autism-treatment research projects. These studies were selected from 86 grant applications evaluated this year for their potential to help those with autism succeed throughout the lifespan.

“This year’s treatment grants build on the exciting scientific progress of our last six years and take us in new directions with promising new interventions across the lifespan,” says Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geri Dawson, Ph.D. “We’re particularly excited to be supporting more studies involving relatively underserved populations including nonverbal children, preschool students in minority communities, and working adults with autism.”

The grant applications were reviewed by scientific experts including members of the Autism Speaks Treatment Advisory Board and family members of persons affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The selected studies will evaluate the effectiveness of a broad array of promising behavioral and medical treatments for core symptoms and associated medical issues in children, adolescents, and adults with autism spectrum disorders.

Eight of the ten grants are for pilots studies aimed at bringing new investigators into the autism field and jump-starting research on novel treatments. These pilot grants are for up to $60,000 a year for up to two years. Additionally, two full-level grants were awarded for $150,000 a year for three years ($450,000 total each).

Three of the pilot projects address the needs of non-verbal individuals with autism by focusing on social engagement and language development:

* At Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Gottfried Schlaug, M.D., Ph.D., will conduct a controlled trial of an innovative type of therapy called “auditory motor mapping training.” The therapy employs singing, motor activity, and imitation to activate brain regions associated with speech and has been used successfully with stroke victims suffering from loss of speech due to brain damage (aphasia).

* At the University of Kansas, Nancy Brady, Ph.D., will study a communication intervention aimed at improving spoken language acquisition by nonverbal school-age children with autism.

* At Michigan State University, Brooke Ingersoll, Ph.D., will investigate the effectiveness of a behavioral intervention called reciprocal imitation training for increasing social engagement in adolescents with intellectual disability and ASD.

Another three pilot studies focus on quality of life issues among adolescents and adults with autism:

* At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Leann Smith, Ph.D., will test the effectiveness of “Transitioning Together,” an adolescent-and-family intervention for reducing stress and improving coping strategies during the transition to adulthood. 

* At Florida State University, Lindee Morgan, Ph.D., will evaluate an adult social skills program that focuses on the job interview process.

* At the University of Calgary (Alberta), David Nicholas, Ph.D., will use Canada’s national database of care-provider surveys to identify and evaluate vocational services available to adults on the autism spectrum. With a focus on quality of life issues, the project aims to inform public policy in the United States as well as Canada.

The final two pilot projects focus on improving quality of life by addressing two common medical conditions associated with autism:

* At New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Aristea Galanopoulou, M.D., Ph.D., will study the role of mTOR inhibitors (proteins that regulate vital cell growth processes) on the treatment of autism symptoms in children with infantile seizures.

* At the University of Colorado, Denver, Mark Laudenslager, Ph.D., will develop methods to accurately measure melatonin levels in saliva, with the goal of producing a practical way to objectively determine which children with ASD would benefit from melatonin supplementation to address sleep difficulties. 

The two full treatment grants will fund the evaluation of two broad new approaches to improving learning and daily function among pre-school and school-age children on the autism spectrum:

* At the University of California-Los Angles, Connie Kasari, Ph.D., will evaluate the effectiveness of a preschool-based early intervention program for enhancing social and language communication in urban, ethnically diverse communities.

* Also at UCLA, Jeffery Wood, Ph.D., will evaluate the usefulness of cognitive behavioral therapy in reducing core autism symptoms in school and home settings. Dr. Wood pioneered the use of cognitive behavioral therapy for reducing anxiety symptoms associated with ASD.

The 2011 Autism Speaks Treatment Advisory Board was chaired by psychologist Lauren Bernstein Adamson, Ph.D., of Georgia State University and included leading scientists, physicians, individuals on the autism spectrum, and parents of children on the spectrum.

To find out more about these and other studies funded by Autism Speaks, please visit our Grant Search page.