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Calls to Action

A Message from Cure Autism Now Scientific Advisory Board Chair, Dr. Pat Levitt

October 14, 2007

On behalf of the Scientific Advisory Board I would like to extend my thanks to the supporters of Cure Autism Now. Research efforts supported by Cure Autism Now extend across the many sub-disciplines of neuroscience, and are converging on autism in ways that we have never previously experienced.

The labors of scientists will result in reaching an understanding of autism in a far more rapid fashion than we thought possible. This will naturally lead to more creative development of interventions for autism. This year, the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) oversaw the largest growth of grant applications that Cure Autism Now has ever witnessed. Just three short years ago, the SAB reviewed approximately 40 applications that had a focus on defining the characteristic features of autism in children, and pilot studies on interventions that lacked a neurobiological perspective. In September 2004, 125 applications, actually reduced from more than 150 letters of intent, reflected a mix of clinical (75%) and basic (25%) research efforts that are incorporating the most sophisticated genetic, neuroimaging, neurophysiological, behavioral and cell biological tools. Clearly, the competition is more severe now than ever.

There are two areas that deserve special comment regarding this year's applications. First, there is great excitement because of the impact that the collaborative nature of Cure Autism Now has had on stimulating a large increase in pilot applications using AGRE and other national resources to move a step closer to identify the genes responsible for autism susceptibility.

Second, the interface of modern cognitive and cellular neuroscience and intervention and treatment is beginning to motivate scientists who are expert in the basic science of brain function to focus on defining more accurately, from a neuroscience perspective, features of autism in clinical populations that will help translate research findings into interventions in children. For example, there is new excitement about certain brain circuits that use the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA; these unique brain cells have been implicated in several hypotheses as culprits in disrupted cognitive and social-emotional functions in autism, and will be the focus of several new CAN-funded pilot grants.

The overwhelming response this year to the CAN request for applications highlights the continued attraction of some of the nation's best clinical and basic neuroscientists, psychologists, psychiatrists and neurologists to spend more of their precious research time investigating autism spectrum disorders.

You should all be proud of what you have accomplished.