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ARRA Investments in Autism Spectrum Disorders-2


Public Health Burden
Autism is a complex developmental disability that causes problems with social interaction and communication. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that an average of 1 in 150 children in the United States have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Symptoms usually start before age three and can cause delays or problems that develop from infancy to adulthood.

Improving Screening
Developing improved screening and diagnostic methods will enable physicians and parents to identify cases of ASD early.  Some behavioral interventions, when started early, could help to mitigate certain behavioral dysfunctions.  In addition, with a greater number of identified cases of ASD, researchers will be better able to identify subtypes of autism across the spectrum of disorders.
  • Researchers are examining screening and evaluation measures of ASD, to better enable clinicians and families to determine the onset of ASD early.1
  • In another study, researchers will develop a short parent interview that can be administered by phone to screen and identify children with ASD, increasing the number of potential participants for ASD research.2
  • With additional staff, researchers will also investigate the barriers to screening in minority populations and maintain participation of practices in minority communities.3
Potential Therapeutics
While there is currently no cure for autism, there are interventions to mitigate certain symptoms of ASD.  ARRA funded grants are exploring additional ways to optimize the development of individuals with ASD, from infancy to adulthood.
  • Researchers are developing an intervention for 6-11 month old infants who are at risk for ASD and show some symptoms that would be delivered by parents/caretakers.4
  • In addition, researchers are determining whether the brain processes for ADHD-like symptoms in individuals with ASD are the same as in typical ADHD.  Findings may be used to guide treatment studies.5
  • Researchers will also develop a cognitive behavioral therapy for adolescents with ASD and comorbid anxiety disorder.6
  • To improve peer relationships in teens with autism spectrum disorders, researchers will test and compare a school-based and a community-based intervention.7
  • In another study, researchers will determine whether a certain hormone improves social cognition in adults with ASD--a potentially new treatment for social impairment linked to ASD.8
Basic Research
To lay the basis for future new interventions, NIH ARRA funds also support basic investigations.  Basic investigations are being conducted to identify causes of and potential therapeutics for ASD.
  • Building on recent findings, researchers will create novel genetic mouse models to examine brain pathology and behavioral abnormalities for autism, which may lead to pharmacologic treatments.9
  • To better understand language difficulties in ASD, researchers will develop a songbird animal model and examine how a certain gene affects repetitive behaviors.  Findings may improve social interactions and speech learning.10
  • Researchers will collect brain chemical measures from infants to help identify distinct clinical subtypes of ASD, clarifying underlying mechanisms that lead to developmental abnormalities in autism.11
  • In another study, researchers will conduct a prospective study to characterize gastrointestinal dysfunction in children with and without ASD, which might lead to ways to improve diagnosis and treatment for ASD.12
  • By developing an improved computer tool, researchers can collect better quality data on the adaptive behavior of children and adolescents with ASD, facilitating advances in research and clinical services.13
  • Researchers will investigate the genetic causes of autism and why males are at increased risk compared to females.  Information about what protects females from autism could reduce risk in males.14
  • In another study, researchers are developing a systematic strategy to identify mutations and genes associated with autism.  Findings may lead to early diagnosis and to the genetic classification of different causes of autism.15
  • Researchers will examine ASD from the systems biology perspective and define protein networks and functional modules relevant to ASD.16



  1. 1R01HD065272-01 -- Improving and Streamlining Screening and Diagnosis of ASD at 18-24 Months of Age -- Wetherby, Amy (FL)
  2. 1R01HD065277-01 -- Development of a Screening Interview for Research Studies of ASD -- Bishop, Somer (OH)
  3. 1R01HD039961-06A2W1 -- Early Detection of Pervasive Developmental Disorders -- Fein, Deborah (CT)
  4. 1R21HD065275-01 -- Initial Investigation of Prevention of ASD in Infants at Risk -- Rogers, Sally (CA)
  5. 1R01HD065282-01 -- Neural Dissection of Hyperactivity/Inattention in Autism -- Castellanos, Francisco (NY)
  6. 1R34HD065270-01, 1R34HD065274-01, 1R34HD065284-01 -- CBT for Anxiety Disorders in Autism: Adapting Treatment for Adolescents -- Wood, Jeffrey (CA), Storch, Eric (FL), Ehrenreich-May, Jill (FL)
  7. 1R01HD065291-01 -- Treatment as usual and peer engagement in teens with High Functioning Autism -- Orlich, Felice (WA)
  8. 1R21HD065276-01 -- The effects of oxytocin on complex social cognition in autism spectrum disorders -- Bartz, Jennifer (NY)
  9. 1R21HD065290-01 -- Novel Genetic Animal Models of Autism -- Powell, Craig (TX)
  10. 1R21HD065271-01 -- Cntnap2 in a behavioral model of autism -- White, Stephanie (CA)
  11. 1R01HD065283-01 -- A Longitudinal 3-D MRSI Study of Infants at High Risk for Autism -- Dager, Stephen (WA)
  12. 1R21HD065289-01 -- The MET Signaling System,Autism and Gastrointestinal Dysfunction -- Levitt, Pat (CA)
  13. 1R21HD065281-01 -- Computer Adaptive Testing of Adaptive Behavior of Children and Youth with Autism -- Coster, Wendy (MA)
  14. 1R21HD065273-01 -- A Sex-Specific Dissection of Autism Genetics -- Weiss, Lauren (CA)
  15. 1R01HD065285-01 -- Genomic Identification of Autism Loci -- Eichler, Evan (WA)
  16. 1R01HD065288-01 -- A systems biology approach to unravel the underlying functional modules of ASD -- Iakoucheva, Lilia (CA)


 
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