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Archive for September, 2011

President Obama has signed the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2011. The bill extends the Combating Autism Act of 2006 for an additional three years for a total of $693 million for continued biomedical and treatment research on autism.  For each of the next three years, the bill authorizes spending levels of $ 22 million for surveillance through CDC, $48 million for early detection and treatment programs through HRSA, and $161 million for autism research at NIH.  The new law also reauthorizes the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee.

Here is the official press release from the White House:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE September 30, 2011

 Statement by the Press Secretary

On Friday, September 30, 2011, the President signed into law:

H.R. 2005, the “Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2011,” which reauthorizes the Combating Autism Act of 2006, which created and authorized funding for several programs and a coordinating committee at HHS for Autism research, screening, intervention, and education

H.R. 2017, the “Continuing Resolution Act, 2012,” which provides FY 2012 appropriations for continuing projects and activities of the Federal Government through Tuesday October 4, 2011

H.R. 2883, the “Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act of 2011,” which reauthorizes and makes changes to several child and family welfare programs, including: (1) the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare Services program; (2) the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program; (3) the Monthly Caseworker Visits and Regional Partnership grant programs; and (4) the Court Improvement Program, and reauthorizes child welfare demonstration projects designed to test innovative strategies in States; and

H.R. 2943, the “Short Term TANF Extension Act,” which provides a short-term extension of certain welfare programs that expire on September 30, 2011.

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We are pleased to announce that two additional autism scientists have joined our Scientific Advisory Board (SAB). Please join us in welcoming  Dr. Joseph Buxbaum, Director of the Seaver Autism Center and Professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and Dr. Bryan King, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington and a Research Affiliate at the Center on Human Development and Disability (CHDD).

ASF’s SAB is responsible for guiding the organization’s scientific direction. SAB members also serve on the review committee for ASF’s research grants. Since its founding two years ago, ASF has distributed almost $500,000 in autism research grants and fellowships.

“Dr. Buxbaum and Dr. King are highly respected members of the autism research community and have been active in our grant review process and other science activities,” said Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation.  “We are thrilled to formally welcome them as members of our Scientific Advisory Board.”

Current ASF Scientific Advisory Board members are: Dr. Emanuel DiCicco-Bloom (UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School); Dr. Ami Klin (Emory University); Dr. Sharon Humiston (University of Rochester); Dr. Harold Koplewicz (The Child Mind Institute); Dr. Eric London (New York Institute for Basic Research); Dr. Catherine Lord (New York Institute for Brain Development); Dr. David Mandell (University of Pennsylvania/Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) and Dr. Matthew State (Yale Medical School).

Joseph Buxbaum, PhD is a molecular neuroscientist and Director of the Seaver Autism Center and Professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dr. Buxbaum heads the Laboratory of Molecular Neuropsychiatry, which has identified genes in autism and translated them into animal models so that therapeutic approaches can be evaluated. In this context, Dr. Buxbaum and his group make use of multiple experimental systems to ultimately develop and evaluate novel therapeutics in autism spectrum conditions. Dr. Buxbaum is a lead investigator in the Autism Genome Project and is a part of the Psychiatric Genetics Consortium. Most recently, six lead investigators, including Dr. Buxbaum, initiated a large-scale next-generation sequencing project to identify additional genetic causes of autism. In addition, Dr. Buxbaum, together with fellow Autism Science Foundation SAB member Dr Matthew State, recently created the Autism Sequencing Consortium with 15 member groups to date dedicated to sharing and jointly analyzing large-scale next-generation sequencing data in autism. Dr. Buxbaum has received numerous awards for his research including recognition from the New York University Child Study Center (2004), from the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (2005 and 2010), and from the Eden Institute Foundation for his “commitment and dedication to improving the quality of life in individuals with autism” (2008).

Bryan King, MD is a Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington and Director of the Seattle Children’s Autism Center. Dr. King studies psychopathology in persons with developmental disabilities, and potential treatments for persons with these conditions. His primary focus is repetitive self-injurious behavior (SIB). He has explored animal models of self-biting with the aim of better understanding the causes of SIB in persons with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other developmental disabilities. Dr. King is currently involved in studies of the safety and effectiveness of medications to treat behavioral disturbances in persons with ASD. He is also interested in exploring better ways to collect data and to predict treatment response in clinical trials involving this population.

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Online Autism Research Destination for  Parents, Individuals with Autism, Scientists and Teachers

We are pleased to announce the re-launch of our website as an enhanced, interactive resource for parents, individuals with autism, teachers, scientists and other autism stakeholders.

The website is the central distribution point for the latest in autism science and research. The site features:

Over the next few weeks, ASF’s team will be adding more features to the site including autism research sorted by topic area and a section about autism research studies seeking participants.

“It’s crucial that families, educators and scientists have access to up-to-date information that they know has been peer-reviewed or vetted by ASF’s Scientific Advisory Board,” said ASF co-founder Karen London. “Since ASF’s inception in 2009, we have aimed to be a central and trusted source of rigorous science information for the autism community.”

“We are pleased to be able to offer the autism community a broad and deep source of evidence-based information that integrates more interactive features and that reorganizes information to make it more useful and easier to find, in response to community feedback,” said Jonathan Carter,  ASF’s operations manager. “The site offers ways for everyone who has a connection to autism to get involved in this important issue.”

We hope you enjoy our new online home as much as we do! Got ideas or feedback about the site? Leave a comment or email us at contactus@autismsciencefoundation.org.

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Dr. Ami Klin is the Chief of Autism and Related Disorders of the Marcus Autism Center. Dr. Klin is also a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar at Emory University and director of the Division of Autism and Related Developmental Disabilities in the Department of Pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine. Dr. Klin is also on the Autism Science Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board. ASF Intern Max Rolison interviewed Dr. Klin about his research on high-risk siblings and eye-tracking.

Max Rolison: What got you interested in autism?

Ami Klin: I have worked with children with disabilities all my adult life. I was always involved in clinical care. During my graduate years I lived in a residential unit for adults with autism in London. I was very invested personally in the clinical care for individuals with autism. From an academic standpoint, I was always interested in the science of social development. I saw a convergence between those two fields. So I basically married the two and became a clinician and hopefully a scientist in the areas of social relationships and social development.
MR: How did you get involved in studying high risk siblings?

AK: For many years, we didn’t see any children who were very young because children would come to a place like Yale only at a certain age. With much greater awareness of autism, thanks in part to the work that Alison Singer has done for so many years, parents began to reach out to us with younger and younger children. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that that should be diagnosable in the first years of life. And yet, all of the knowledge we had of those first years of life were based on the retrospective information that one would get from either parents reporting or some indirect source like the videos that were made of children prior to the time that the children were diagnosed. Of course, in order to understand autism, it is absolutely critical that we understand the first months and years of life. Although autism has a strong genetic basis, the causes are numerous and varied.

We still need to answer the question of why we have so many different causes and yet we still have a unitary symptom in the sense that a clinician like myself can walk into a playroom and recognize a child with autism as different from children with other developmental disabilities. In other words, we need to ask where does the homogeneity of autism come from. And there is no replacement to basically accompanying children from the time they are born. Even though the prevalence of autism is very high, say 1 in 110/120, it would not be possible for one to create a risk based sample on the basis of the general population because you would have to see too many children in order to see one child with autism. We know that the recurrent rate among siblings is much higher than in the general population. This is why it is imperative to follow younger siblings, and, in fact, we now know that this recurrence is even higher than we expected in the beginning. It is important for science – unveiling the mystery of the first 2 years of life – but it is also important to families, who are typically very concerned about their children once they have a child with autism. What our program did that others did not is that we decided that we were going to follow children in the first year of life very intensively. Most other centers see siblings only once in the first year of life. We decided we were going to follow the children monthly for the first six months, and every three months thereafter. And that was a critical decision, making possible the results we eventually got. (more…)

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The Autism Sequencing Consortium is meeting today at the National Institute of Mental Health. The conference is organized by Dr. Joseph Buxbaum of Mt Sinai School of Medicine and Dr. Matt State of Yale Medical School, both members of the Autism Science Foundation Scientific Advisory Board.  Presentations will focus on the pathways from genes to therapeutics.

The consortium was formed two years ago in an effort to move autism genetics forward.  Data show that 15% of autism is due to genetic structural variation and consortium members believe that at least an equal amount is due to yet undiscovered structural issues. The consortium is focused on fulfilling the short term IACC strategic plan objective to collect a large sample of 20,000 subjects for genome-wide association studies (Q3, S-1), and the long term strategic plan objective to identify genetic risk factors for autism in 50% of people with autism (Q3, L-2) .

NIMH Director Dr. Tom Insel opened the meeting saying it was only four years ago that we started talking about sequencing in autism and that genomics plays a critical role in understanding, diagnosing and treating autism. He described that there has been no way to identify subtypes based on clinical features.  “Many attempts to do that in the past and have failed. The best way to subtype is likely to be by genetic architecture.”

Dr. Insel also described that our current evidence-based interventions are behavioral and as the number of children with autism continues to grow, these kids will probably not all be able to get 40 hours per week of therapy.  “We need to find medications that are helpful for kids, especially those who are most severely affected.  Right now, there are some clinical targets for associated symptoms for which we have medications, but we need medications for the core symptoms. Genetics work can give us these targets.”

Insel urged the group to look for alleles that are protective, rather than those that confer vulnerability as targets for drug development. “The twin who doesn’t develop autism or the younger sib who doesn’t have autism may be the most important in terms of treatment development. “  Insel added that genomics is a marathon. “This is a ten year effort to understand the risk architecture and get a real sense of the underlying genetic biology of autism”.

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