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Autism Speaks, with generous support from the Royal Arch Masons International, is pleased to announce two new funding opportunities for research focused on improving understanding, evaluation and treatment of auditory processing disorders among people who have autism and related conditions.
The goal is to increase quality of life, with an emphasis on personalizing interventions.
Since the 1970s, the Royal Arch Masons International have ranked among the leading philanthropies helping children with auditory processing disorders, also known as central auditory processing disorders. This includes a range of conditions affecting the way individuals process the information they hear. Many people with autism have related challenges that can include difficulty using and comprehending speech and/or paying attention to and remembering spoken information.
The new research grant opportunities include
one pilot research award, up to $60,000
one predoctoral fellowship award, up to $40,000.
Autism Speaks seeks proposals for research that will
* increase understanding of the relationship between auditory processes and neurobehavioral function;
* lead to improved treatments for auditory processing challenges and related brain function and behavioral challenges;
* improve healthcare guidelines for identifying, evaluating and treating central auditory processing disorders;
* hold the potential to increase quality of life for people who have differences in brain development.
Find more information and instructions for applying in this Request For Applications.
Autism Speaks is pleased to announce its annual selection of the ten studies that most-powerfully advanced the field of autism research to enhance lives today and accelerate a spectrum of solutions for tomorrow.
The Autism Speaks Medical and Scientific Advisory Board and the Autism Speaks science leadership team selected the annual Top Ten from more than 4,000 peer-reviewed research reports published in scientific journals this year.
“These studies exemplify the noteworthy advances we’re witnessing across the field – from research into the causes and biology of autism to the evaluation of new methods for earlier identification and intervention,” says Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Thomas Frazier. “Their results are helping children today and laying the foundation for more-effective, personalized treatments and support services across the lifespan.”
The selections listed below include commentary by science staff and advisors with related expertise. (Autism Speaks funding noted where applicable)
Harnessing the power of parent participation in early intervention
Randomised trial of a parent-mediated intervention for infants at high risk for autism: longitudinal outcomes to age 3 years. Green, J, Pickles, A, Pasco, G, et al. J Child Psychol Psychiatr. 2017 Dec;58(12):1330-40. [Autism Speaks research grants 7773 and 1292]
Longitudinal follow-up of academic achievement in children with autism from age 2 to 18. Kim SH, Bal VH, Lord C. J Child Psychol Psychiatr. 2017 Sept 26 Epub
“These two studies stand out in demonstrating the benefits of parent participation in early intervention for autism. The study led by Jonathan Green, at the University of Manchester, is the first to show long-term benefits – milder autism features and increased social interaction – from a very early intervention that teaches parents how to interact with infants at high risk for autism. (Read more about this study here.)
The research led by So Hyun Kim, at Weill Cornell Medicine, focuses on the understudied topic of what influences academic achievement in children and youth on the autism spectrum. I find it particularly interesting that the study identified parent participation in early intervention by age 3 to be a significant predictor of academic achievement, in addition to cognitive abilities.”
- Stelios Georgiades, Ph.D., member of the Autism Speaks Medical and Scientific Advisory Board and co-director of the McMaster Autism Research Team, at McMaster University & Hamilton Health Sciences, in Hamilton, Ontario
Advances and insights in autism genomics
Whole genome sequencing resource identifies 18 new candidate genes for autism spectrum disorder. Yuen RK, Merico D, Bookman M, et al. Nat Neurosci. 2017 Apr;20(4):602-11. [Autism Speaks research grants 9767, 9365, 7907]
Polygenic transmission disequilibrium confirms that common and rare variation act additively to create risk for autism spectrum disorders. Weiner DJ, Wigdor EM, Ripke S, et al. Nat Genet. 2017 Jul;49(7):978-985.
Meta-analysis of GWAS of over 16,000 individuals with autism spectrum disorder highlights a novel locus at 10q24.32 and a significant overlap with schizophrenia. Autism Spectrum Disorders Working Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium. Mol Autism. 2017 May 22;8:21.
“These studies highlight how far we’ve come and how fast we’re moving in understanding the complex genetics of autism, though they were not alone in doing so. (Also see Turner 2017, Werling 2017 and Grove 2017.)
Previously, genetic studies focused almost exclusively on genes, which contain instructions, or coding, for making proteins in our body. But they didn’t look closely at other parts of the genome, such as the less-understood “non-coding” regions. We’re just beginning to understand the role of non-coding DNA changes in autism. The next step is to combine the results of these and still more genomic studies. Only then will we be able to understand how different types of genetic – and environmental – risks interact with each other.
- Joseph Buxbaum, Ph.D., member of the Autism Speaks Medical and Scientific Advisory Board and director of the Seaver Autism Center, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City
Deciphering early differences in infant behavior and brain development
Infant viewing of social scenes is under genetic control and is atypical in autism. Constantino JN, Kennon-McGill S, Weichselbaum C, et al. Nature. 2017 Jul 20;547(7663):340-344.
Early brain development in infants at high risk for autism spectrum disorder. Hazlett HC, Gu H, Munsell BC, et al. Nature. 2017;542:348-51. [Autism Speaks research grant 6020]
“These two studies are important for revealing new early predictors of autism and its severity. Such predictors can help us identify infants who may benefit from early interventions before the outward signs of autism develop. The study findings also give us insights into autism’s underlying biology, which can help us develop better treatments and support services.
Because autism tends to run in families, both studies enrolled the baby siblings of children already diagnosed with the condition. Heather Hazlett’s team identified an increase in brain surface volume before 12 months in babies who later developed autism. During the second year of life, their overall brain size increased at the same time as their behavioral symptoms appeared. And the babies with the largest brain overgrowth developed the most-severe symptoms.
John Constantino’s team followed up on their previous discovery that, as babies, children who later developed autism were already paying less attention to socially important features of faces – the eyes and mouth. The team’s new study confirmed this finding and found that the preference for looking at eyes and mouths is strongly controlled by genetics across the general population. This implies that a strong genetic influence leads to differences in how a young child begins to experience and draw information from the social world. Such insights hold promise for guiding the development of interventions that support very early social development and communication in babies and toddlers at risk for autism. This includes any baby who shows warning signs. (See “Learn the signs of autism”)
- Edwin Cook, M.D., member of the Autism Speaks Medical and Scientific Advisory Board and director of the Laboratory of Developmental Neuroscience, University of Illinois, Chicago
New insights into predictors and possible contributors to autism
Increased extra-axial cerebrospinal fluid in high-risk infants who later develop autism. Shen MD, Kim SH, McKinstry RC, et al. Biol Psychiatry. 2017 Aug 1;82(3):186-193. [Autism Speaks research grant 6020]
Association between serotonergic antidepressant use during pregnancy and autism spectrum disorder in children. Brown HK, Ray JG, Wilton AS, et al. JAMA. 2017 Apr 18;317(15):1544-1552.
“The large study led by Mark Shen involved 343 infants and confirmed the unexpected results of a smaller 2013 study that found increased cerebrospinal fluid overlying the brain in babies who are later diagnosed with autism. This discovery represents more than an early biomarker of autism risk. It may lead to a better understanding of the neurodevelopmental processes that contribute to autism. For example, we now need to understand whether fundamental problems with the production or control of cerebrospinal fluid contribute to autism. Or perhaps the increased fluid stems from an underlying factor such as inflammation.
The report by Hilary Brown and colleagues is one of the best in a flurry of studies suggesting that serotonin antidepressants taken during pregnancy do not increase risk for autism. Some earlier studies suggested such a risk. But we know that autism occurs at higher rates in families affected by depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder – the conditions commonly treated with these medicines. The new study found no difference in autism rates between siblings whose mothers took such a medication during one pregnancy but not the other.
This illustrates the need for exquisite control for differences in study populations when identifying risk factors for autism. The results also offer crucial guidance to expectant mothers who want to balance a medicine’s potential risk to a future child against the known risks of leaving a serious medical condition such as depression untreated.”
- Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, M.D., member of the Autism Speaks Medical and Science Advisory Committee and director of Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, in New York City
Functional neuroimaging of high-risk 6-month-old infants predicts a diagnosis of autism at 24 months of age. Emerson RW, Adams C, Nishino T, et al. Sci Transl Med. 2017 Jun 7;9(393). [Autism Speaks research grant 6020]
“Earlier identification of autism is crucial for earlier intervention with its great potential to improve outcomes. To that end, Robert Emerson and colleagues showed that, at 6 months of age, differences in brain activity patterns (e.g. functional brain connections) can predict a later diagnosis of autism. This discovery is consistent with those of previous studies that identified tell-tale differences in anatomical, or structural, brain connections in babies who later developed autism. Together, this body of research reinforces the idea that the brain changes leading to autism begin very early in life.
However, this year’s study involved just 59 infants at high risk for autism (because they were born into families already affected by the condition). It’s important to confirm its results with a larger group of babies. If the findings prove true – and these brain-imaging methods become practical for use outside of research studies – we may gain an important new tool for detecting autism and intervening earlier in babies at high risk for the condition.”
- Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Thomas Frazier, Ph.D.
Subscribe to Autism Speaks’ Science Digest to receive autism research news and expert advice posts delivered quarterly to your inbox.
(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.
On Dec 14, Dr. Frazier answered questions about the Strategic Plan for Science as part of a Facebook Live chat with Autism Speaks Chief Program and Marketing Officer Lisa Goring. View the archived webchat below.
Register to join this free Autism BrainNet webinar at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/1876530285585726465
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 webinars for 2018 include:
Send us your topic suggestions:
We would love your input on topics and presenters for our autism healthcare and research series. Our goal is to identify relevant topics and broaden our audience – starting with you. We are excited to collaborate and hear about your various research interests. If you have an autism-related topic that you want to learn more about, please fill out this short survey.
The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) will hold its next quarterly meeting on April 19, 2018, at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, with a live webcast. The full-day meeting is open to the public and includes a public comment period. The IACC coordinates federal efforts related to autism.
Autism Speaks encourages members of the autism community to participate and make their views known. Learn more and register to provide public comment here.
Past 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.
On December 14, 2017, Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Tom Frazier and Chief Program and Marketing Officer Lisa Goring discussed Autism Speaks’ newly released Strategic Plan for Science 2018-2020 and took your questions.
The federal Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) holds quarterly meetings at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The full-day meeting is open to the public and includes a public comment period. It can also be viewed via live webcast from 9 am to 5 pm. 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 meeting agendas here.
View archived webcasts 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.
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