The US Department of Health and Human Services has awarded $15 million to Massachusetts General Hospital and the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (ATN) to continue serving as the Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health (AIR-P) for another five years.
The ATN is a network of 14 medical centers across the United States and Canada, dedicated to advancing integrated, “whole person” care of children and adolescents with autism. Mass General will again serve as the national coordinating center for the ATN’s role as the federally funded AIR-P.
MassGeneral’s Karen Kuhlthau will lead the AIR-P initiative. Dr. Kuhlthau is an associate professor in the department of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a widely respected expert on the special health needs of children with autism.
The Autism CARES Act of 2014 extended federal support for the AIR-P. The newest round of funding prioritizes patient-centered autism research that improves physical health, with a mandate to increase services for children in underserved communities.
“We are grateful to the Maternal and Child Health Bureau for this award, which will enable us to further the work of improving the physical health of children with autism, especially those from groups that have been long underserved,” Dr. Kuhlthau says. “This work builds on strong partnerships with ATN sites and the excellent clinical and research expertise available through the network.”
Research initiatives in the planning include:
* ECHO Autism, a tele-health program for improving autism expertise among primary care physicians, with an emphasis on training those in locations remote from major medical centers.
* The Autism Dental Project, with research focused on improving home dental care and increasing access to professional dental care for children with autism. The project will place special focus on children in underserved communities, including those covered by Medicaid.
“Over the last seven years, AIR-P funding has allowed the ATN sites to develop best practice guidelines for the medical care of children with autism, to disseminate those guidelines to the wider medical community and to study new approaches to the treatment of autism,” says ATN senior director Donna Murray. “With the new AIR-P grant, the ATN sites and clinicians will be able to extend the reach of their clinical and research efforts, with a special emphasis on addressing the needs of underserved communities.”
“Our ATN clinicians and researchers are ideally suited to do this work,” adds developmental pediatrician Paul Wang, Autism Speaks vice president and head of medical research. “They are unmatched in their extensive experience in both caring for families affected by autism and collaborating with them to identify the most pressing needs and to design the right studies to address these needs.”