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Archive for April, 2013

Today, the Autism Science Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to funding autism research, announced the recipients of its annual pre- and postdoctoral fellowships, as well as the first recipient of a new 3-year early career award, and the recipient of its first treatment grant.  Three postdoctoral and four predoctoral grants will be awarded to student/mentor teams conducting research in autism interventions, etiology, treatment targets, early diagnosis, biomarkers and animal models. Dr. Jill Locke of the University of Pennsylvania was named the recipient of ASF’s first multi-year grant, and Dr. Alex Kolevzon of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai will receive ASF’s first treatment award.

“The autism community has demanded more research to understand what is causing autism and to develop better treatments,” said ASF President Alison Singer. “We are proud to be able to increase our research funding in response to this national health crisis and we are especially grateful to all our donors and volunteers who have come together to support autism research and make these grants possible.”

This year, the Autism Science Foundation will fund just over $350,000 in grants. In its four years of operation, ASF has funded over $1.1 million in grants.

“ASF attracts outstanding applicants across the board, representing a broad range of perspectives on autism science,” said Dr. Matthew State, Chair of the ASF Scientific Advisory Board and Chairman of the Psychiatry Department at the University of California, San Francisco. “These projects show great potential to move the field forward.”

The following projects were selected for 2013 funding:

3-Year Early Career Award:

* Dr. Jill Locke: University of Pennsylvania

Multi-Site, Randomized, Controlled Implementation Trial of an Evidence-Based, Adult and Peer-Mediated Social Skills Intervention for Elementary School Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

 

Co-funded with the FAR Fund

  

Treatment Grant:

* Dr. Alexander Kolevzon: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Human Clinical Trial of IGF-1 in Children with Idiopathic ASD

 

Postdoctoral Fellowships:

* Dr. Aimee Badeaux & Dr. Yang Shi: Boston Children’s Hospital

Molecular Characterization of Autism Gene CHD8 in Shaping the Brain Epigenome

* Dr. Sara Schaafsma & Dr. Donald Pfaff: Rockefeller University

Sex-Specific Gene-Environment Interactions Underlying ASD

* Dr. Teresa Tavassoli & Dr. Joseph Buxbaum: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Developing a Sensory Reactivity Composite Score for the New DSM-5

 

Predoctoral Fellowships:

* Alexandra Bey & Dr. Yong-hui Jiang: Duke University

The Role of Shank3 in Neocortex Versus Striatum and the Pathophysiology of Autism

* Ezzat Hashemi & Dr. Veronica Martinez-Cerdeno: University of California, Davis

Alteration of Dendrite and Spine Number and Morphology in the Human Prefrontal Cortex in Autism

* Jessie Northrup & Dr. Jana Iverson: University of Pittsburgh

Development of Vocal Coordination between Caregivers and Infants at Risk for ASD

* Russell Port & Dr. Timothy Roberts: University of Pennsylvania

GABA and Gamma-Band Activity: Biomarker for ASD?   

 

Learn more about the projects selected for funding here.

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By Matthew Maenner

Early identification of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) continues to be an important public health objective.  Research has shown that ASD can be reliably identified in children by around 2 years of age, and public health campaigns promote the detection of developmental “early warning signs”  that may indicate ASD.  Despite these efforts, there is a considerable gap between the age ASD is detected in clinical research, and the age at which children are identified as having ASD in typical community settings.  Previous population-based studies have shown that the average age of ASD identification in the community is less than ideal (at 5.7 years), and there is little information about whether these “early warning signs” lead to earlier ASD identification in everyday practice.

Our new study uses data from the CDC Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network to answer two questions about how ASD behavioral features are described by community professionals and whether these behaviors are associated with the age of ASD identification. The ADDM Network identified 2,757 8-year-old children that met the surveillance case definition for ASD (based on the DSM-IV-TR criteria) in 2006.

616 combination

First, we examined the frequency and patterns of diagnostic behaviors that lead to a child meeting the diagnostic criteria for ASD (based on the DSM-IV-TR).  There are many different ways to meet the diagnostic criteria for ASD.  For example, there are 616 combinations of the 12 behavioral criteria that fulfill the minimum number (6) and pattern needed for “Autistic Disorder” alone.  Although there was considerable variability between individuals with ASD, boys and girls had similar patterns of documented behaviors, as did black and white children overall.  Among the 2,757 children, the most commonly documented behaviors were impairments in emotional reciprocity (90%), delays in spoken language (89%), and impairments in the ability to hold a conversation (86%).  The least frequently documented behaviors were lack of sharing enjoyment or interests (49%) and lack of spontaneous or pretend play (57%).

Our second question was whether particular ASD behaviors (such as those highlighted by the CDC’s “Learn the Signs” campaign) are actually associated with earlier ASD identification in typical community settings.  We found that the both the total number and types of diagnostic behaviors in a child’s record were strongly associated with the age that they were identified as having ASD.  Children with all 12 behavioral symptoms were diagnosed at a median age of 3.8 years of age, compared to 8.2 years for children with only 7 of the 12 behaviors.  Additionally, children with documented impairments in nonverbal communication, pretend play, inflexible routines, or repetitive motor behaviors tended to have an earlier age at ASD identification than children who did have these features in their records.  Children with impairments in peer relations, conversational ability, or idiosyncratic speech were more likely to be identified as having ASD at a later age.

These findings give us a clearer understanding of how ASD diagnoses are made in the community, and help inform efforts to maximize early identification and intervention among children with ASDs.  It may be more difficult to detect ASD at an early age among children with fewer symptoms, or symptoms that are most apparent at later ages (such as getting along with peers or conversational ability). A recent national telephone survey reported an increase in ASD prevalence among young teenagers, and parents were more likely to describe their later-diagnosed children as having “mild” ASD.  It’s possible that increased awareness and intensified screening for ASD could lead to more individuals being identified at both earlier and later ages. Strategies to improve early ASD identification and interventions could benefit by considering the manner in which individuals may meet ASD criteria.

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By Alison Singer, Co-Founder and President of ASF

NIMH Director Dr. Tom Insel, Nobel Laureate Dr. Eric Kandel, & ASF President Alison Singer in the East Room of the White House

It’s not about autism awareness anymore; it’s about action!  And today the Obama Administration took action, unveiling a new, bold scientific effort to examine how the human brain works.  Scientists and advocates joined President Obama in the East Room of the White House this morning for a discussion of the project and the official public announcement of the BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies).

The project will involve scientists, federal agencies, and non profit foundations in a concerted effort to advance our knowledge of the brain’s billions of neurons and gain greater insights into diseases like autism, potentially finding therapies for a variety of brain-based disorders.  The project, slated to cost $100 million in 2014, will be included in the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget.

NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins introduced the President, calling him “America’s Scientist in Chief”.  Speaking for about 15 minutes, the President said:

“As humans, we can identify galaxies light years away, we can study particles smaller than an atom.  But we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears.  But today, scientists possess the capability to study individual neurons and figure out the main functions of certain areas of the brain.  But a human brain contains almost 100 billion neurons making trillions of connections.  So as a result, we’re still unable to cure diseases like Alzheimer’s or autism, or fully reverse the effects of a stroke.  And the most powerful computer in the world isn’t nearly as intuitive as the one we’re born with.  So there is this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked, and the BRAIN Initiative will change that by giving scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action and better understand how we think and how we learn and how we remember.  And that knowledge could be, will be, transformative.” 

President Obama announces new BRAIN Initiative

President Obama announces new BRAIN Initiative

The BRAIN Initiative will accelerate the development and application of new technologies that will enable researchers to produce dynamic pictures of the brain that show how individual cells and complex neural circuits interact at “the speed of thought”. These technologies will open new doors to explore how the brain records, processes, uses, stores and retrieves vast quantities of information and will shed new light on the complex links between brain function and behavior. The initiative ultimately aims to help researchers find new ways to treat, cure and even prevent brain disorders like autism, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and traumatic brain injury.

Earlier this year, in his State of the Union address, President Obama cited brain research as an example of how the government should ‘‘invest in the best ideas” and remarked that “now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race”.

Brain research is a critical component in advancing the autism research agenda and ASF is proud to participate in this new initiative, working together with advocates from many other brain-based diseases and disorders. ASF has invested in brain-based research since its launch in 2009, funding several pre- and postdoctoral grants focused on better understanding brain development, structure and function. In October 2012, with support from the Simons Foundation, ASF launched a new effort to develop a multi-media campaign to increase brain tissue donation to further autism research.

“At this point, we have learned a great deal about the genetics of autism, and have important animal models with which to test genetic hypotheses” said Dr. Gerald Fischbach, Director of the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative. “Now the next step in developing useful therapies, and even possibly preventative measures, depends on understanding more about the human brain itself.”

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by Theresa Waldron, author of http://www.healthsnark.com

Anti-vaccine groups have been speaking out since the late 1980s against the many vaccines recommended for infants and children to prevent childhood infectious diseases. One-third of parents say they are concerned about the safety of vaccines, and one in 10 refuse or delay to vaccinate their children out of those concerns.

One of the most vocal of their worries is that vaccines are linked to autism, and that the standard 28 vaccines recommended for children from birth to age six are excessive and harmful. In fact, some anti-vaccine groups such as Generation Rescue go so far as to claim that autism is a common “side effect” of vaccines.

But in a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers looked at the medical records of 256 children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and 752 typically developing children who received standard vaccines from birth to age two. They wanted to see if the number of “antigens” present in the vaccines, which stimulate the body to produce antibodies to fight infection, had any correlation with the children’s risk of autism. Some anti-vaccine groups believe that the vaccine antigens are too strong for young children’s immune systems, thereby making them more susceptible to autism.

Do Children with ASD Receive more Antigens?

The researchers wanted to see if perhaps children with ASD were receiving more antigens than children without ASD. They evaluated the total antigen numbers in both groups of children by adding the number of different antigens in all vaccines each child received in one day, as well as all vaccines each child received up to 2 years of age. The researchers found that the total antigens from vaccines received by age two, or the maximum number received on a single day, was the same between children with and without ASD.

There is a contention by anti-vaccine groups that because children receive more vaccines than in previous years, they are being exposed to more antigens, and that this is what is causing autism rates to rise. Actually, current vaccines have more targeted antigens, so fewer of the antigens need to be used to be effective now than in previous years. The current vaccine schedule does recommend more vaccines now than in the late 1990s. But the maximum number of antigens by age two in a currently vaccinated child is 315 compared to several thousand in the late 1990s.

The idea that an infant or young child’s immune system is fragile and can’t handle antigens and other “immunologic stimuli,” is simply not true, the authors conclude. Babies are naturally exposed to many viruses and antigens in their everyday world.

“The possibility that immunological stimulation from vaccines during the first one or two years of life could be related to the development of ASD is not well-supported by what is known about the neurobiology of ASDs,” they write.

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AUTISM SCIENCE FOUNDATION and DANCE2BFIT

HOST ZUMBA MANIA on APRIL 6, 2013

Get Fit! Feel Fab! Raise Funds!

(April 1, 2013—New York, NY)  The Autism Science Foundation (ASF) and Dance2BFit will host their first annual Zumba Mania, a fun and fun-draising event for families and individuals affected by autism, on April 6, 2013 at Dance2BFit Studios in Mamaroneck.

The event will raise money to fund research to find the causes of autism and develop better treatments for children, teens and adults with autism. 1 in 88 children is currently diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, making it more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined.

Zumba Mania will run from 12:30pm – 3:30pm at Dance2BFit at 656 Van Ranst Place, Mamaroneck, NY.  Dance2BFit owner/instructor Gustavo Lopez, a Mamaroneck native and MHS graduate, will lead the zumba-ing. Dancers 12 and over, of all developmental and skill levels, are welcome to participate.

“Let’s face it; it’s stressful being the parent of a child with autism and zumba is a fabulous stress reliever,” said Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation. “Gustavo is the best instructor I’ve ever met. It’s just impossible not to be happy when you’re doing zumba with Gustavo.”

“Everyone can zumba,” said Lopez, who became a certified zumba instructor in 2009 and opened Dance2BFit in 2012. “Whatever your age, fitness level, or developmental level, zumba is a great workout and has great health benefits.”

Tickets are $25 and available online at http://asfzumbamania.eventbrite.com/. All advance ticket buyers will receive a free water bottle or size large t-shirt at the door. Tickets can be purchased at the door, space permitting.

Zumba is a dance fitness program created by Colombian dancer/choreographer Albert Perez. It involves dance and aerobic elements and incorporates hip-hop, samba, salsa, mambo and other dance moves.  According to Wikipedia, approximately 14 million people take weekly Zumba classes in over 140,000 locations across more than 150 countries.

100% of the proceeds from this event will benefit the Autism Science Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity. Its mission is to support autism research by providing funding to scientists and organizations conducting autism research. ASF also provides information about autism to the general public and serves to increase awareness of autism spectrum disorders and the needs of individuals and families affected by autism. ASF was founded by Scarsdale resident Alison Singer, who currently serves as president and Chief Zumba Officer.

To learn more about the Autism Science Foundation’s programs visit www.autismsciencefoundation.org.

 

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Contact Information:

Casey Gold
Program Associate
Autism Science Foundation
212 391-3913
cgold@autismsciencefoundation.org

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