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Autism Speaks awards $1.1 million to fund high priority studies

New York, N.Y. (March 26, 2012) Autism Speaks, the world's leading autism science and advocacy organization, today announced the award of new research grants totaling $1.1 million in funding to support high priority studies. "Suzanne and I are extraordinarily proud of Autism Speaks' continued funding for novel research projects which have tremendous potential to open new avenues to understanding autism," said Autism Speaks Co-founder Bob Wright.

A one-year DSM-IV/DSM-5 prevalence study by Yale University researcher Young Shin Kim, M.D., M.S., M.P.H., Ph.D., will assess how proposed changes to the diagnostic criteria of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) will affect prevalence estimates and potential eligibility for autism-related services. This study will use a total population approach to include both clinical and non-clinical ASD populations, and systematic standardized screening and diagnostic assessment. It will utilize the sample from their recently published Korean ASD prevalence study in a cost and time efficient epidemiological approach to compare DSM-IV and DSM-5 diagnoses.

A Suzanne and Bob Wright Trailblazer Award was granted to researcher Mark Atherton, Ph.D., at Brunel University (Uxbridge, UK) for a one-year study on how selective noise cancellation technology can improve quality of life for many people who are affected by both autism and sound sensitivities. Many children and adults with autism have unusual responses to even normal sound levels in their environment, with particular sounds causing distress or even triggering challenging behaviors. Currently available and practical responses are rudimentary, with sound-blocking ear protectors being the most common. This project explores the potential of noise cancellation technology to selectively attenuate the sounds that people with autism find challenging, testing its suitability in a range of day-to-day settings and its ability to be configured to address the sound sensitivities of each individual. If successful, the project would open the way to a technological intervention that will greatly enhance quality of life for those with autism by addressing what many find a disabling characteristic for children and adults with ASD. Autism Speaks launched its Suzanne and Bob Wright Trailblazer Awards to support highly novel "out of the box" autism-relevant research.

Isaac Pessah, Ph.D., from University of California-Davis Center for Children's Environmental Health, was awarded a one-year grant to expand his environmental health work to determine how certain flame retardants (PBDEs) interact with the immune system in ways that may interfere with prenatal development and increase autism risk. Dr. Pessah's study will follow two lines of investigation. Animals exposed to PBDE during gestation will be evaluated focusing on behavioral endpoints relevant to autism and immunohistochemical findings. In addition blood samples will be taken from children affected and not affected by ASD to evaluate immune system response to PBDEs. This study seeks better understanding of the mechanisms involved in disruption of the immune system in ASD, especially environmental factors which exacerbate or trigger an immune response. Findings may not only identify modifiable risk factors, but better focus research attention on more targeted biomarkers.

Additional funding was provided to extend the scope of several ongoing studies of significance to Autism Speaks. Martin Knapp, Ph.D., from the London School of Economics, Kings College London and David Mandell, Sc.D., of the University of Pennsylvania will add a second year to their joint effort to update current estimates of autism's economic costs, taking into account the effects on economic costs and benefits of intensive preschool behavioral interventions and vocational interventions that increase independence during the transition to adulthood.

As part of Autism Speaks "Move the Needle" initiative, which seeks to lower the average age of autism diagnosis and expand the delivery of high-quality early interventions, additional funding has been granted to Sally Rogers, Ph.D., at University of California-Davis and Annette Estes, Ph.D., at the University of Washington to support a two-site study enhancing parent-implemented early interventions. Their work will evaluate the adequacy of parent training and support to implement home-based interventions in the course of daily routines for accelerating their children's progress.

Lastly, an international analysis of ASD prenatal risk factors using disease registry systems in seven countries is funded through the International Collaboration for Autism Registry Epidemiology (iCARE).

"These targeted research projects are focusing on questions that are important to our community such as what the effect of the DSM-5 is on diagnosis, how does the environment affect risk for autism, and what is the cost savings of providing early intervention," says Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D. "None of these projects would be possible without support from our community. We are so thankful for that support."


Contact: Jane E. Rubinstein
Autism Speaks

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