U.S. Government Calls for Proposals in Autism Research


Do you want to know what sort of research the U.S. government is considering funding? Well, here is the announcement This call for grant proposals is based directly on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee’s (IACC) Strategic Plan.

Last amongst the list, and likely in terms of funding, is “services”. This is the one are where adults are specifically mentioned.

Here are a few lines pulled out for those who may not want to read the entire call. Emphases are added by me:

Under epidemiology:

Studies of the genetic and environmental epidemiology of autism to determine risk and protective processes in the etiology of autism…

So, yes, environmental causation is being funded. Also under epidemiology:

studies of their developmental course across the life-span

This is good and much needed: an understanding of how autistics develop across the lifespan. This is not, after all, a childhood disorder.

Yes, there is funding for treatments, specifically “Pharmacological/Biological Interventions”. These include the opportunity for the alternative medical community to prove itself:

studies aimed at developing and testing the efficacy and safety of botanical and dietary supplemental CAM agents that specifically target symptom management

Here is a more full version of the announcement:


The purpose of this Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) is to encourage research grant applications to support research designed to elucidate the etiology, epidemiology, diagnosis, treatment, and optimal means of service delivery in relation to autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

In response to the urgent public health significance of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), Congress passed the Combating Autism Act (CAA) of 2006. Through this Act, Congress intends to accelerate the pace, and improve coordination of scientific discovery in ASD research. The Strategic Plan for ASD Research, a requirement of the CAA, was developed with the input of the scientific community, as well as advocates and advocacy organizations, including parents, providers, and individuals with ASD. The plan consists of short and long term research objectives across a range of topics, including those relevant to the heterogeneity of ASD. This FOA is intended to support the broad research goals of the Strategic Plan for ASD Research. (http://iacc.hhs.gov/reports/2009/iacc-strategic-plan-for-autism-spectrum-disorder-research-jan26.shtml),

Research Objectives

Autism Spectrum Disorders share a cluster of impairments in reciprocal social interaction, communication, and the presence of stereotyped behavior, interests, or activities. These complex disorders are usually of lifelong duration and affect multiple aspects of development, learning, and adaptation at home, in school, and in the community, thus representing a pressing public health need. The etiologies of these disorders are not yet understood, but may include a combination of genetic, metabolic, immunologic, or infectious or other environmental influences.

Clinical research involving these disorders requires well-integrated, multi-disciplinary, methodologically-rigorous scientific approaches and access to a sufficient number of well-characterized patients with these disorders. Basic research into the pathophysiology of autism and autism spectrum disorders, including research on brain mechanisms and genetics, is of special interest. Also of high priority are clinical and applied investigations that may lead to the development of diagnostic research instruments, treatments, and interventions, including complementary and alternative medicine [CAM] strategies. Specific areas of interest thus include epidemiology, early identification and diagnosis, genetic studies, brain mechanisms, communication skills, cognitive neuroscience, psychosocial (behavioral) interventions, pharmacological and other biological interventions, and support and rehabilitative services across the life-span, including adulthood and the transition to adulthood.

Areas of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:

Epidemiology: Studies of the genetic and environmental epidemiology of autism to determine risk and protective processes in the etiology of autism, including environmental exposures during pregnancy and early childhood; longitudinal studies of high-risk populations; epidemiologic research on interactive genetic and environmental factors or processes that increase or decrease risk for autism; research on the expression of the full range of autism spectrum disorders; studies of their developmental course across the life-span; studies that characterize the range of expression within families; and research on co-occurring features, especially research that characterizes and quantifies risk and protective processes associated with co-occurrence. Also of interest are clinical epidemiologic studies of autism spectrum disorders in clinical settings, including studies of clinical decision-making in personal-encounter care for individuals and families.

Screening, Early Identification, and Diagnosis: Key diagnostic and phenotypic features associated with various stages of development; development of new screening tools for use in a variety of settings; assessment of comorbid features including hyperactivity, attentional or executive dysfunctions, and epilepsy; the creation of new measures to be used in longitudinal studies, and measures that further differentiate the subtypes of autism spectrum disorders; and, developmental factors relevant to reliable and valid diagnosis.

Genetic Studies: Family-based or population-based genetic analyses that aim to 1) Identify specific susceptibility genes using candidate gene/region based approaches, whole exome as well as whole genome sequence approaches; 2) Investigate epigenetic mechanisms and long range control of gene expression; 3) Conduct high-resolution mapping and positional cloning studies; 4) Detect locus heterogeneity; and 5) Analyze the interaction of autism susceptibility genes with environmental exposures and/or genes responsive to environmental insult. An area of particular interest is the effect of genetic factors on therapeutic drug response in individuals with ASD (see Pharmacogenomic Studies, below).

Brain Mechanisms: Studies of brain mechanisms underlying the development, regulation, and modulation of behaviors characterizing autism and autism spectrum disorders, particularly those mechanisms involving communication and social interaction; studies of brain mechanisms and biological factors underlying autistic regression, or the loss of previously acquired skills; studies of brain mechanisms involved in the development of abnormal electroencephalograms and epilepsy and studies to clarify the subtypes of seizures and seizure disorders in autism; studies to define the neurobiological basis of neurological abnormalities and neuropsychiatric symptoms and the exacerbation of these symptoms, including the role of neuroimmune/autoimmune factors and mitochondrial dysfunction; studies that seek to define basic processing deficits using neuropsychological and cognitive neuroscience techniques; studies using animal models to examine brain dysfunction related to autism and autism spectrum disorders, based on either genetic or environmental factors or their interaction; studies using novel reagents and tools to identify molecular, cellular, or developmental mechanisms distinguishing autism spectrum and control subjects.

Shared Neurobiology of Autism with Fragile X, Rett Syndrome, and Related Disorders: Studies of developmental and functional processes, pathways, and brain mechanisms that will lead to an understanding of shared etiology or pathophysiology among these disorders. Analysis of autism-related neurobiological and behavioral phenotypes in related “single gene” disorders. Of particular interest are projects that focus on basic research and/or preclinical testing in model systems to develop and assess the safety and biological activity of novel therapeutic compounds that could be used to treat autism and related disorders. There is also significant interest in analyses that would identify useful and specific clinical endpoints that would register measurable improvements in response to treatment interventions in clinical populations as well as studies that would facilitate future development of clinical trials in these populations.

Cognitive Science: Developmental studies of relevant behaviors during infancy including attention to social and nonsocial stimuli, affective behavior, gaze, vocalization, imitation, initiative, reciprocity, attachment, play, compliance, and self-recognition and their emergence in children with autism and autistic spectrum disorders; research on the delays and deviations in social behavior and cognition during preschool and middle school, including empathy, receptive social cognitive deficits (i.e., difficulties understanding others), and expressive difficulties; studies leading to more sophisticated tests of higher cognitive functioning, especially in social, communicative, reasoning, and problem-solving areas, as well as tests of basic attentional, emotional and cognitive deficits that may underlie these deficits or their precursors; studies of theory of mind, of unconventional verbal behaviors, and of the sensory-motor factors involved in relevant social cognition; and the development, validation, and refinement of interventions designed to address deficits in complex social and cognitive abilities or their developmental precursors; interventions designed to lessen or remediate cognitive deficits.

Communication Skills: Longitudinal, developmental studies of behaviors that are precursors to later communication and their emergence in children with autism and autistic spectrum disorders; sensory, motor, and social-cognitive impairments that impact interaction and communication; predictors of loss of or regression in expressive language abilities; interventions designed to remediate communication and related deficits across the life-span.

Pharmacological/Biological Interventions: In addition to pharmacological agents that specifically target the core features of autism and autism spectrum disorders: studies of the efficacy and safety of pharmacological and combined treatments for the most common and impairing psychopathology associated with autism (e.g., hyperactivity, impulsivity, aggression, self-injury); studies that relate characteristics of individuals (or diagnostic subtypes) to therapeutic response and treatment outcomes (also see Pharmacogenomic Studies, below); new approaches to treatment that build on advances in neuroscience, genetics, immunology, and other neurobiologic fields; identification and validation of novel treatment targets and molecular screening approaches or biomarkers that assess effects on key biological, neurodevelopmental and/or behavioral endpoints disrupted in ASD; focused interventions that test specific theories or hypotheses regarding possible neuropathogenesis; studies that address the benefits of combined drug and cognitive, behavioral, or psychosocial interventions; studies aimed at developing and testing the efficacy and safety of botanical and dietary supplemental CAM agents that specifically target symptom management; development of innovative methodologies and outcome measures.

Pharmacogenomic Studies: Analysis of SNP and DNA sequence data that 1) Predict therapeutic response or adverse reactions to drugs; 2) correlate drug response profiles with intermediate phenotypes (e.g., brain imaging, neurophysiology, learning and memory, sustained attention); 3) identify biomarkers to resolve clinical heterogeneity and heterogeneity of therapeutic drug response; 4) apply high-throughput approaches to screen for drug candidates metabolized by or inhibitors of polymorphic drug-metabolizing enzymes, e.g., CYP2D6; 5) studies of genetically determined functional changes in nuclear and cell surface receptors to explain the ineffectiveness of therapeutic agents and adverse or paradoxical drug responses; 6) studies of allelic variation occurring in individual transporter genes that are associated with a functional consequence.

Psychosocial Interventions: Studies to develop new treatments (e.g., behavioral, cognitive-behavioral, mind/body and manipulative therapies) and that validate, refine, and compare approaches to the treatment of persons with autism and autism spectrum disorders and their families, as well as studies that analyze and define the critical features of effective intervention; studies that relate characteristics of individuals (or diagnostic subtypes) to treatment outcomes; research on relevant contextual factors including physical and community environments, parent-child and sibling-child relationship factors, and peer-child interactions; studies addressing generalization or the transfer of learning from one setting to another; studies that develop and test interventions for infants and toddlers who are at-risk for autism spectrum disorders; studies that develop and test interventions to outcome in school and community settings throughout the lifespan; development of innovative methodologies and outcome measures.

Services Research: Research on the organization, delivery, coordination, and financing of services for persons with autism spectrum disorders, and their families, within or across service settings; studies aimed at better identifying and addressing changes in service and rehabilitative needs across the life-span, including during transitions from childhood to adolescence, and adolescence to adulthood; interventions to improve the quality and outcomes of treatment and rehabilitation services; studies to develop improved measures of adaptive capabilities for children, adolescents, and adults with autism spectrum disorders; studies of ways to coordinate or integrate services across settings including specialty mental health, general health, and other settings such as educational, vocational, and housing services, in order to maximize receipt of appropriate services; and research on the economic factors effecting the delivery of needed services and treatments including cost-benefit, cost-effectiveness, and cost utility analyses of service interventions.


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