224 publications produced and nearly 40 million dollars in further funding secured as a result of CAN investments
Ten years ago there were few biologists who identified themselves as autism researchers, science was moving slowly, and autism was not attracting the resources it deserved. Frustrated and knowing that so much more could be done, parents bonded together and formed Cure Autism Now.
The mission of CAN therefore became accelerating scientific research to prevent, treat and cure autism, not just for future generations, but for this one. Urgency is a core feature, and with everyone pitching in, we raise money for this mission. Through rigorous scientific review, the CAN Science Program distributes funds in the form of grants to projects that will reveal the biological issues at the core of autism, unambiguously diagnosis the children, investigate treatment approaches and support technology development for families and caregivers, and provide the research resources to make this all happen, quickly. The end goal is simple, a way of making the suffering from autism go away.
A decade later, how do we know that CAN-funded science has helped move the field?
In honor of its 10 year anniversary, CAN has conducted a survey of our past grantees to determine the impact of CAN grants. While the numbers continue to grow, the results are astonishing. From 1998 to 2005, CAN has supported 144 projects. As knowledge is gained and theories tested through the benefit of these awards, the information is dispersed to the public through the process of scientific publication in peer-reviewed journals. In this way, the money provided benefits not only the researchers who are the direct recipients, but the entire autism community.
Past CAN grantees and users of CAN's Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE) have reported that CAN projects have resulted in a staggering 224 publications! These are 224 pieces of information about autism that would not have existed without your support. The research has had an enormous impact on how we think about the disorder of autism. For example, this includes uncovering the first evidence for an ongoing neuroinflammatory reaction in individuals with autism, galvanizing the field to search for causes of brain inflammation. It also includes pinpointing the white matter increases to regions of local brain connectivity, supporting a theory of disrupted information processing in the brains of individuals with autism. Together, CAN publications are forming a central part of the foundation of knowledge that researchers all over the world are using to pursue a cure for autism.
The importance of this contribution was captured by 2003 CAN grantee Peter Mundy, Ph.D., University of Miami, who thanked the foundation "for making a significant step forward possible in our development of new and improved diagnostic and assessment methods for children with autism," a sentiment that was echoed over and over by the survey responders.
But the impact of CAN funding does not end with publications. Data and ideas produced through these awards can then be used to apply for money to carry out follow-up investigations, bringing even more support into a field that was so woefully under-funded when we started. CAN grantees that participated in the survey report that data generated through CAN support was leveraged to bring in an additional 39 million dollars of grant support. In response to the survey, 2001 CAN grantee Nancy Isenberg, M.D., MPH, the New Jersey Neuroscience Institute, expressed her gratitude for CAN funding, without which she says she "would have, as a clinician-researcher, been unable to collect the pilot data that provided the groundwork for my current NIH-funded research in autism."
Thus, during a time when competition for biomedical disease research funding is intense, and preliminary data is absolutely required to qualify for large government funding sources, seeding innovative ideas through Cure Autism Now grants has secured almost 40 million more dollars earmarked for autism research.
Highlighting 2005, last year alone CAN grant investments resulted in 52 publications. New York Times Magazine ranked one of these publications (CAN grantee Michael Platt's study on animal models of social attention) as one of the top 78 ideas of 2005 in its "Annual Year in Ideas" issue. Also in 2005, CAN's Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE) was utilized in 21 publications, five of which were in the American Journal of Human Genetics, one of the most widely read and respected genetics journals in the world. One of these publications, Rita Cantor's discovery of a powerful autism linkage to Chromosome 17, was named by Discover Magazine as one of the top 100 scientific discoveries of the year! This brings the total to 65 international publications that have used AGRE research materials as the basis of autism discoveries.
It is also important to take into account that over its first decade, CAN has done far more for autism science than just fund grants - a very significant amount of CAN money has gone into sponsoring targeted research think tanks and building resources, especially those that promote collaborative efforts. Most notable among these efforts is AGRE itself. Although covering the costs of AGRE clearly means that fewer grants have been funded over CAN's history, the decision to build this open-access biomaterials databank for autism research was far-reaching and paradigm-shifting, perhaps having had the biggest impact on autism research overall. While this survey did not specifically include the grants or further research that AGRE has made possible, as a resource in perpetuity for anyone who needs clinical, phenotypic, genetic and cellular information, its utility for the autism field is beyond quantification.
The reported numbers begin to put into perspective the enormity of what the Cure Autism Now community has contributed to the field of autism research. These numbers will increase with every grant given and with every bright mind supported. Even so, it is sometimes difficult to recognize what this means to our children and loved ones who suffer from autism. Hearing it expressed by the researchers is what brings it all into focus:
"This grant made possible the pursuit of oxidative stress as a contributing mechanism in autism pathogenesis ... On behalf of the autism community, we acknowledge Cure Autism Now for your support in finding a cure for autism." Xue Ming, M.D., Ph.D., UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School
"Over the course of our first funded project, we accomplished all our stated goals, and we have significantly advanced understanding of new mechanisms by which mercury compounds affect neurodevelopment ... With support from Cure Autism Now we have been able to significantly extend these findings." Ellen Silbergeld Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health
"Thank you again for supporting our efforts to develop novel therapeutic strategies to prevent and treat Autism Spectrum Disorders ... We have secured funding as the result of these efforts which would not have been possible without support by the Cure Autism Now Foundation." David Ostrov, Ph.D., University of Florida, College of Medicine
"Stanley Greenspan and I would like to express our deepest appreciation to Cure Autism Now. Your support came at a vital time in our research, and made possible the extraordinary research we are currently conducting at MEHRI." Stuart Shanker, Ph.D., York University, Milton and Ethel Harris Research Initiative