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Cure Autism Now-Funded Study Finds Brain Inflammation Involved in Autism

October 14, 2007

A new study published in the latest online edition of the Annals of Neurology found the first direct evidence that links brain inflammation to autism. The study, conducted by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, was funded in part by the Cure Autism Now Foundation, one of the leading private funders of autism research in the world. The study found strong evidence that certain types of brain cells (neuroglial cells) show signs of inflammation in people with autism.

"This study is the first report finding neuroinflammation in the brains of individuals who had autism and opens up a promising new area for autism research," said Sophia Colamarino, PhD, Science Director at Cure Autism Now. The next and urgent step will be to fund more extensive studies to determine the role of neuroinflammation in the brain. For instance, we want to know if it represents a cause of or reaction to the pathogenesis of autism."
Carlos A. Pardo, M.D., senior author of the research study, at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore examined brain tissue from 11 people with autism, aged 5-44 years, who died as a result of accidents or injuries. "These findings reinforce the theory that immune activation in the brain is involved in autism, although it is not yet clear whether it is destructive or beneficial, or both, to the developing brain," said Dr. Pardo." Dr. Pardo added that there is no indication for using anti-inflammatory medications at present in people with autism, since they do not affect the type of inflammation that is particular to the brain.

"The continued dedication of scientists will result in reaching an understanding of autism in a far more rapid fashion than we ever thought possible," added Dr. Pat Levitt, director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center and Chair of Cure Autism Now's Scientific Advisory Board. "The neuroimmune mechanism is the same type that plays a role in other disease states such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. The autism community will benefit from rapid follow-up studies to the Hopkins research."

"Cure Autism Now is pleased to have provided funding for this new path of inquiry into the causes of autism as part of our balanced research strategy. What started out as a pilot grant from Cure Autism Now to Dr. Pardo has resulted in enormous advances in science. We look forward to supporting future research into the area of neuroinflammation in autism," said Peter Bell, CEO of Cure Autism Now. "We will continue to be the bridge between the work of scientists and the hopes of millions of families with autism."

About Autism

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disability disorder that affects, often severely, a person's ability to communicate and socially interact with others. It is four times more prevalent in males than females. Currently, autism is believed to affect as many as 1 in every 166 children in America. The rate of people being diagnosed with autism has increased substantially over the past two decades. Although this may be in part due to improved diagnostic techniques and to changes in the criteria for autism spectrum disorders, the majority of experts agree these changes are not enough to explain the epidemic rates at which autism is being diagnosed today.

Currently, there is no single medical test that will definitively diagnose autism. Instead, the diagnosis is made on the basis of observable characteristics of the individual.

Pilot Research Awards

Cure Autism Now seeks to support established investigators from within as well as outside of the field of autism. Research proposals targeting promising hypotheses, using innovative approaches and technologies are a priority. In addition, Cure Autism Now encourages studies focused on generating preliminary data or replication of previous findings, leading to larger studies and federal funding. These awards are available to investigators at any stage in their career. Funding is available at a maximum of $120,000 for two-year awards ($60,000 per year). Indirect costs are limited to 10%.

About Cure Autism Now

Founded in 1995, the Cure Autism Now Foundation is an organization of parents, clinicians and leading scientists committed to accelerating the pace of biomedical research in autism through research, education and outreach. Since its inception, Cure Autism Now has committed more than $20 million to research, in addition to outreach and awareness activities aimed at families, physicians, governmental officials and the general public. In 1997, Cure Autism Now committed funding to establish the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE), a repository of genetic and clinical information of over 500 families with autism or an Autism Spectrum Disorder. For more information on Cure Autism Now, visit their website at

Article: "Neuroglial Activation and Neuroinflammation in the Brain of Patients with Autism," Diana L. Vargas, Caterina Nascimbene, Chitra Krishnan, Andrew W. Zimmerman, and Carlos A. Pardo; Annals of Neurology; Published Online: November 15, 2004 (DOI: 10.1002/ana.20315).