Two more Autism Centers of Excellence funded

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The National Institutes of Health has awarded $5.3 million in initial one-year funding to the latest two recipients of the Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) program. With these awards, announced on World Autism Awareness Day, these and nine other ACE centers in US are now being funded for up to five years.

The program was created in 2007 to launch an intense and coordinated research effort aimed at identifying the causes of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and finding new treatments.

The new ACE awards will fund two research networks, or consortia of research centers, each focusing on specific aims:

1. Sally J. Rogers, Ph.D., University of California, Davis MIND Institute.

The UC Davis network will conduct multi-site randomized clinical trials to provide information on what effects the style of early intervention for young children with autism, and the intensity of treatment (number of hours per week), have on children’s development.

2. Daniel Geschwind, M.D., Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles.

The UCLA ACE will build on the network’s earlier work identifying genetic variants associated with autism susceptibility, with an important new emphasis: the network aims to recruit at least 600 African-American families with a child with an ASD. The network will look for gene variants associated with autism in Americans with self-reported African ancestry, and test genetic risk factors identified in white populations to see what role those gene variants may play in the disorder in those of African descent.

Other centers and networks

3. Susan Bookheimer, Ph.D. (University of California, Los Angeles)

This research group will use brain imaging technology to chart brain development among individuals having genes suspected of contributing to ASD.

4. Ami Klin, Ph.D. (Emory University, Atlanta)

The Emory team will investigate risk and resilience in ASD, such as identifying factors associated with positive outcomes or social disability, starting in 1-month-old infants and will begin treatment in 12 month olds in randomized clinical trials. Through parallel studies in model systems, the researchers will chart brain development of neural networks involved in social interaction. This center will increase understanding of how ASD unfolds across early development.

5. Helen Tager–Flusberg, Ph.D. (Boston University)

Many individuals with ASD fail to acquire spoken language, and little is known about why this is so. This research team will use brain imaging technologies in an effort to understand why these individuals do not learn to speak, with the goal of helping them to overcome this limitation.

6. Connie Kasari, Ph.D. (University of California, Los Angeles)

This network will compare two types of intensive, daily instruction for children with ASD who use only minimal verbal communication. Earlier research has shown that even after early language-skills training, about one-third of school aged children with ASD remain minimally verbal.

7. Kevin Pelphrey, Ph.D. (Yale University, New Haven, Conn.)

A team of researchers from Yale, UCLA, Harvard, and the University of Washington will investigate the poorly understood nature of ASD in females. The project will study a larger sample of girls with autism than has been studied previously, and will focus on genes, brain function, and behavior throughout childhood and adolescence.

8. Joseph Piven, M.D. (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

This research group previously used brain imaging to show atypical brain development at age 6 months in infants who were later diagnosed with ASD. The group now plans to follow another group of infants at risk for ASD.

9. Abraham Reichenberg, Ph.D. (Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City)

Researchers in this network will embark on an ambitious attempt to understand how genetic and environmental factors influence the development of autism. The researchers will analyze detailed records and biospecimens from 4.5 million births involving 20,000 cases of ASD, from 7 countries (the United States, Australia, Denmark, Finland, Israel, Norway, and Sweden.)

10. Mustafa Sahin, M.D., Ph.D. (Harvard Medical School, Boston) and Darcy Krueger, M.D., Ph.D. (Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and University of Cincinnati)

This network will recruit patients with tuberous sclerosis complex, a rare genetic disease that causes tumors in the brain and other vital organs. Patients with tuberous sclerosis complex have an increased risk for developing autism. The researchers will track brain development in infants diagnosed with tuberous sclerosis complex, to gain insights into how autism develops.

11. Linmarie Sikich, M.D. (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) The researchers will test whether treatment with oxytocin nasal spray can improve social interaction and communication in children with ASD. Oxytocin is a neuropeptide (used by brain cells to communicate) and has been associated with social behaviors.

Source: National Institutes of Health, USA

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