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US plan for autism research: focus on environmental causation re-emphasized

Posted Feb 28 2011 3:56pm

The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee has released the 2011 Strategic Plan. This maps out the proposed directions that government funded research should take in regards to autism in the coming years.

The area that gets the most scrutiny is causation research, so I am blogging it first. Once again, the IACC has put forth a program with the major emphasis on environmental causation projects, with over 70% of funding going towards environmental causation:

Under short term objectives for “Question 3: What Caused This to Happen and Can It Be Prevented?” there are 6 new objectives for 2011. No new “long term” objectives.

Initiate studies on at least 10 environmental factors identified in the recommendations from the 2007 IOM report “Autism and the Environment: Challenges and Opportunities for Research” as potential causes of ASD by 2012. IACC Recommended Budget: $56,000,000 over 2 years.

Convene a workshop that explores the usefulness of bioinformatic approaches to identify environmental risks for ASD by 2011. IACC Recommended Budget: $35,000 over 1 year.

Support at least three studies of special populations or use existing databases to inform our understanding of environmental risk factors for ASD in pregnancy and the early postnatal period by 2012. Such studies could include o Comparisons of populations differing in geography, gender, ethnic background, exposure history (e.g., prematurity, maternal infection, nutritional deficiencies, toxins), and migration patterns; and
o Comparisons of phenotype (e.g., cytokine profiles), in children with and without a history of autistic regression, adverse events following immunization (such as fever and seizures), and mitochondrial impairment. These studies may also include comparisons of phenotype between children with regressive ASD and their siblings.
Emphasis on environmental factors that influence prenatal and early postnatal development is particularly of high priority. Epidemiological studies should pay special attention to include racially and ethnically diverse populations. IACC Recommended Budget: $12,000,000 over 5 years.

Support at least two studies that examine potential differences in the microbiome of individuals with ASD versus comparison groups by 2012.
IACC Recommended Budget: $1,000,000 over 2 years.

Support at least three studies that focus on the role of epigenetics in the etiology of ASD, including studies that include assays to measure DNA methylations and histone modifications and those exploring how exposures may act on maternal or paternal genomes via epigenetic mechanisms to alter gene expression, by 2012. IACC Recommended Budget: $20,000,000 over 5 years.

Support two studies and a workshop that facilitate the development of vertebrate and invertebrate model systems for the exploration of environmental risks and their interaction with gender and genetic susceptibilities for ASD by 2012. IACC Recommended Budget: $1,535,000 over 3 years.

Many have claimed in the past that the IACC has not supported environmental causation. This is just not true, and it is not true going forward. Causation research in the past few Strategic Plans has focused the majority of funding on environmental and gene-environment causation.

Many have claimed that this blog is somehow against environmental causation research. Again, this is clearly not true.

I doubt either argument will go away. But, those are minor issues. What is important is what gets done. Causation research is important.

I would, and have, argued that research into supporting autistics alive today is also highly important. Research involving issues concerning autistic adults is vastly underfunded in my view. Total budget for new projects in the “WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD, PARTICULARLY FOR ADULTS?” is zero. That’s right. No new projects in this area.

Besides neglecting the needs of a large number of adults today, this is poor planning for the future of today’s children. A person will spend about 75% of his/her life as an adult. Much, if not most, of that time without the support of parents.

  1. McD:
    The biomed crowd have to be happy with that program. It is a pity that there is no funding for adult research. Only recently have my father's support workers realized that he is probably on the spectrum. He has been a challenge for us all. When we look at Dad, we have a wee idea of what the future may hold for our son - except that my son has much higher needs than my father did at that age. Being nearly 40 years older than our child makes things even worse, he will spend most of his life with us not around, which terrifies me sometimes. Then, as an AS mum, I would be really interested in information on parents with ASD. Based on my experiences with my nieces, I think it would be really difficult parenting an NT daughter! I am OK with NT boys, but neurotypical girls are on a different planet. And it would seem they need the specific support that maybe only a neurotypical mum can provide. I wouldn't swap my ASD boys for neurotypical daughters!
  2. passionlessDrone:
    Hi Sullivan - Thanks for posting this. I am absolutely stoked about what I see above, concrete steps towards figuring out what the clinic has been telling us is going wrong with our children for a long time. I'd love to see the bioinformatic component get a much larger share of the pie, but that will come. Cytokine profiles mentioned specifically? Oh yeah. They've got some short time horizons on some of these iniatives too! Great stuff! - pD
  3. Sullivan:
    passionlessDrone, I somehow thought you might be pleased when I hit on the word "cytokine". It's your tax dollars at work. I think you and a whole lot more people will be interested in this. Causation research is nearly 60% of the budget for newly funded items. Most of that is environmental and/or gene-environment. I have no problem with that. I just wish more was focused on some other areas. I am wrong in that there is some money (in other areas) focused on adults. Not a huge amount, but some.
  4. stanley seigler:
    [LBRB say] Besides neglecting the needs of a large number of adults today, this is poor planning for the future of today’s children. A person will spend about 75% of his/her life as an adult. Much, if not most, of that time without the support of parents... tho research to causes/cures is needed...the autism scientists are sadly biased to this, vice...support for those not cured...besides the above comment, LBRB, in general, is an eg...my opine... stanley seigler

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