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(December 13, 2017) Autism Speaks today released its Strategic Plan for Science 2018-2020, with emphasis on the organization’s mission to enhance lives today and accelerate a spectrum of solutions for tomorrow.
“We want see the decade ahead delivering personalized therapies and services that meet the needs of people across the autism spectrum and the life span, says Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Thomas Frazier. “This includes increasing access to early childhood screening and intervention, to services that decrease the impact of co-occurring medical and mental health problems, and to programs that improve the transition into adulthood.”
“This plan renews our commitment to be an engine that drives cutting-edge science and paves the way for personalized autism care,” adds Autism Speaks President and Chief Executive Officer Angela Geiger. “These advances in research will help transform the landscape for people affected by autism, accelerating progress toward new and improved options that will enhance the quality of life now and in the future.”
The strategic plan’s priorities were shaped by guidance from leading autism researchers, healthcare providers, people on the autism spectrum and their families. Earlier this year, Autism Speaks collected direct input from the autism community through a 20-question, online Science Planning Survey, open to the public and completed by more than 6,000 people.
The plan’s priority objectives include:
* Support research that deepens understanding of autism’s causes, including basic research on the biological processes that lead to many different types of autism and their associated physical and mental health conditions.
* Support studies that translate these basic discoveries into promising personalized treatments and services ready to be evaluated in pilot studies.
* Foster opportunities for clinical testing of promising treatments, individual services and public health programs, with an emphasis on serving underserved communities at home and abroad.
* Improve the measurement of autism and its associated features to enhance screening, diagnosis, subgroup identification and the tracking of change during clinical trials and across the life span.
* Promote consensus-building in autism research and healthcare by facilitating engagement among professionals and with the autism community, with the goal of speeding and expanding the delivery of effective, evidence-based care and services.
* Continually review research areas and Autism Speaks science activities to identify those ripe for culmination or transition to other funding sources and to ensure that new research funding complements rather than duplicates that by other funding organizations. In this way, Autism Speaks can best fulfill its signature role of supporting highly innovative research in its early stages, identifying the most promising discoveries and therapies for expanded support by larger funders such as the National Institutes of Health.
* Broadly and effectively communicate our science strategic plan and ongoing progress against its goals, with an emphasis on engaging with the autism community.
“The plan released today is a living document,” Dr. Frazier emphasizes. “We will continue to review progress and incorporate feedback in the coming years.”
Read the full Autism Speaks Strategic Plan for Science 2018-2020, including the proposed activities to achieve the above objectives here.
Join Dr. Frazier tomorrow (Dec 14) at 1 pm Eastern for a Facebook Live Chat about the science plan. We welcome your thoughts and questions.
Webinars sponsored by the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network & the Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health
Advances in Autism Research & Care (AARC) is a free, monthly webinar series sponsored by the Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health (AIR-P) and the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (ATN). Webinar topics alternate between research reports by ATN/AIR-P investigators and trending topics in autism healthcare. Though aimed primarily at educating healthcare providers, the webinars are open to the public. We extend a special welcome to members of the autism community.
Upcoming AARC webinars include: "Peer relationships in school: Student characteristics and response to interventions," on Tuesday, Nov 21, at 2 pm EST, led by renowned autism researcher and educator Connie Kasari. Dr. Kasari is an Autism Speaks-funded researcher and the heads the federally funded Autism Intervention Research Network on Behavioral Health, at the University of California, Los Angeles. REGISTER HERE.
Neuroscientist Cyndi Schumann will lead a free online Autism BrainNet webinar describing how a single postmortem brain donation helped produce multiple scientific discoveries about autism, on Dec. 7 at 1 pm Eastern (noon Central, 11 Mountain, 10 am Pacific). Autism Speaks and the Simons Foundation for Autism Research created Autism BrainNet in 2013, as a safe repository of donated postmortem brain tissue for autism research. Register for the free webinar here. Individuals and families can learn more about becoming future donors at TakesBrains.org.
The federal Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) will hold its next quarterly meeting on Oct 24, from 9 to 5 Eastern, at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and via live webcast. The full-day meeting is open to the public and includes a public comment period. The IACC is charged with overseeing and coordinating autism-related research and services across federal agencies and departments within the National Institutes of Health. Autism Speaks encourages members of the autism community to participate in the meeting and make their views known.
Register to attend here.
Find the meeting agenda here.
View the archived webcast here.
Learn how research on epigenetically regulated genes provides insights into autism’s gene/environment interactions. View the archived webinar here.
On March 13, Mark Zylka, of the University of North Carolina Neuroscience Center, described his research using genetic analysis to gain insights into environmental risk factors for autism, with a panel discussion and comment period led by Valerie Hu, of George Washington University, with time allotted for audience questions. It was moderated by Autism Speaks Interim Chief Science Officer Mathew Pletcher and Autism Science Foundation Chief Science Officer Alycia Halladay, as part of an ongoing webinar series supported by the Escher Fund for Autism, Autism Speaks and the Autism Science Foundation.
View the archived webinar below.
On Feb. 22nd, Donna Murray, Autism Speaks vice president for clinical programs and head of our Autism Treatment Network, hosted a Facebook Live chat, answering questions related to "Improving healthcare for people on the autism spectrum." You can view the archived webchat below or by clickinghere. Check out the comment section for related resources and links.
On Jan. 25, Autism Speaks VP for Genomic Discovery Mat Pletcher hosted a Facebook Live chat about the Autism Speaks research program. View the archived chat - including an extended question and answer session below.
Presented on Nov. 15, 2016, by neuroscientist Tracy Bale, of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, with an introduction by neurodevelopmental neuroscientist Donna Werling, of the University of California-San Francisco. Watch the archived webcast here. This webinar is part of the Environmental Epigenetics of Autism Webinar Series co-organized by Autism Science Foundation, Autism Speaks and the Escher Family Fund for Autism.
Autism BrainNet is dedicated to advancing the highest quality research on autism through the generous post-mortem donation of brain tissue from families affected by the disorder. To learn more about the program – including information about registering your family – click here.
Today, the Autism Speaks MSSNG team announced the upload of an additional 2,030 fully sequenced genomes to the project’s cloud-based databank – making it the world’s largest whole genome resource for autism research, with more than 7,000 genomes from individuals affected by autism and their family members.
“To provide guidance on personalized care to people with autism, it’s important to fully understand what genetic form of autism each person has,” says MSSNG research director Stephen Scherer. “To accomplish this, we need to perform whole genome sequencing on a large and diverse group of participants and provide this information to the research community in an accessible form.” Dr. Scherer also directs The Centre for Applied Genomics at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), in Toronto.
MSSNG team member Susan Walker, also of The Centre for Applied Genomics, made the announcement as part of her presentation on the Autism Speaks MSSNG program, at the annual meeting of the American Society for Human Genetics, in Orlando, Florida. She also described how the team is adding to the behavioral and medical information associated with each privacy-protected genome. These additional measures include developmental milestones, social abilities, language, sleep issues and anxiety, to name just a few.
MSSNG’s mission is to advance the development of personalized treatments and supports for people with autism based on deeper understanding of the gene variations that influence the condition’s symptoms and associated medical conditions.
Autism Speaks makes MSSNG resources freely available to qualified researchers worldwide, together with a powerful tool kit of online analytic tools. It is also developing a lay-friendly community web portal where participating individuals and families can access meaningful information about their genomes, as well as connect with individuals and families with genetic similarities if they so desire.
“We are thrilled that more than 100 scientists around the world are already using MSSNG resources to identify new subtypes of autism and study their underlying genetics and biology,” says Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Tom Frazier. “This is the crucial research we need to address the highly individual needs of each person on the autism spectrum.”
MSSNG is a collaboration between Autism Speaks, SickKids and Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences), which hosts the MSSNG database on its cloud platform.
Today, I am happy to share the results of the Autism Speaks Science Planning Survey. Let me begin by extending tremendous thanks to the more than 6,000 people who completed the survey – including nearly 500 individuals on the autism spectrum, more than 4,000 of their family members and more than 1,700 researchers, clinicians and educators.
Your input provides integral guidance for our next three-year strategic plan for science, which we look forward to announcing later this year.
So what did we learn from our broad and diverse community? We saw strong support across the range of basic and applied autism research. Overall, we saw particularly strong support for research aimed at health and well-being, autism’s associated physical and mental health conditions, the transition into adulthood and life-span issues. This included the development of new behavioral therapies and social supports, as well as new medical treatments and improved screening and earlier diagnosis of both autism and its many associated health conditions.
Most importantly, perhaps, we are encouraged to see the strong alignment between the community’s input and the pillars of Autism Speaks mission “to enhance lives today and accelerate a spectrum of solutions for tomorrow” – with an emphasis on being a catalyst for research breakthroughs.
Already, your input is guiding the formation of our strategic planning for the next three years, and it will continue to do so in the weeks ahead as we finalize the plan and share it with you.
For those of you who would like to delve further into the survey findings, we’ve posted a question-by-question summary of the responses here.
With thanks and best wishes,
Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Thomas Frazier
Autism Speaks is pleased to see three leaders in autism research honored with the National Academy of Medicine’s 2017 Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat International Prize in Mental Health.
Child psychologist Joseph Coyle, of Harvard Medical School, is being honored for his revolutionary work integrating neuroscience and clinical psychiatry, which shifted psychiatry’s emphasis toward brain research. Child psychologist Catherine Lord and geneticist Matthew State are being honored as a team, for designing gold-standard diagnostic methods for autism (Dr. Lord) and using these tools to advance the study of autism genetics and genomics (Dr. State).
Drs. Coyle and Lord are members of the Autism Speaks Medical and Science Advisory Committee. Dr. State’s research has made fruitful use of Autism Speaks’ longstanding autism genome-sequencing programs, which are now part of MSSNG (pronounced “missing”) the world’s largest whole genome databank for autism research.
Read more about their award-winning research and National Academy of Medicine honors here.
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