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IOM Workshop Calls for Greater Research Focus on Environmental Causes of Autism

Advocacy organizations support shift from exclusively genetic model to environmental research emphasis

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Institute of Medicine (IOM) last Friday released a report from the April 18-19 workshop Autism and the Environment, demonstrating a marked shift in the research agenda from heritability factors to toxic environmental exposures in the development of autism. The National Autism Association (NAA) and SafeMinds have long called for a paradigm shift from children with autism are genetically defective to children with autism are sick and their illness is treatable. The groups hope that the recognition of environmental factors (including vaccines and heavy metals) in autism will lead to effective treatments for those with autism and prevention for susceptible infants.

In response to a request from the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, the two-day workshop included the nation's leaders in autism research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). Autism community advocates from SafeMinds, NAA and Autism Speaks were also invited participants of the workshop, plus scientists from Harvard, the MIND Institute, Columbia University, and more. The experts discussed strategies for developing a broad research agenda focusing on autism and environmental exposures.

Presentations emphasized the urgency to combat the growing national health crisis of autism and focused on the mechanisms by which environmental factors (including vaccines, chemicals, infectious agents, or physiological or psychological stress) can affect children's neurodevelopment. In addition, discussions addressed the infrastructure needs of identified research opportunities -- tools, technologies, and partnerships.

In his introductory remarks, Dr. William Raub, Science Advisory to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, expressed his hopes that the workshop would "prove to be an important milestone in autism research." He stated: "The planning committee recognized that vaccine constituents, especially organic chemicals used as preservatives or adjuvants, obviously qualify as environmental agents that warrant attention. . . . . Other aspects of the autism challenge deserve similar attention, especially the paucity of effective treatments."

Autism experts identified a broad range of research priorities, including: biomarkers for diagnosis and treatment of differing subtypes of autism; rigorous analysis of effective treatments; a comparison of the health outcomes of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children, immune system and anti-viral therapies, and the need for more effective chelators. See the report appendix for the full list.

Dr. Alan Leshner, publisher of Science and moderator of the workshop, noted the importance of redirecting the research agenda: "I think this has been spectacular and I hope I am right. I would repeat the comment I made fairly glibly before, that is, this is a very important start, and if we don't do something, then shame on us."

Download the workshop report at

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Rita Shreffler 401-632-6452

Lyn Redwood 404-932-1786

SOURCE National Autism Association
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