Rare Daily Staff

The National Institutes of Health said it made nine awards of research grants totaling nearly $100 million over the next five years to the Autism Centers of Excellence program, an effort that supports large research projects aimed at understanding and developing interventions for autism spectrum disorder.

Autism spectrum disorder is a complex neurological and developmental disorder that begins early in life and affects how a person acts, learns, and interacts with others. The disorder has environmental, genetic, neurological, and behavioral components.

Though autism is not itself considered rare. About one in 68 children are believed to have the condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nevertheless, several rare conditions, such as fragile X syndrome and tuberous sclerosis carry an increased risk of autism. NIH has said that rare diseases may account for 20 percent or more of all autism cases.

The so-called ACE program was created in 2007 from the consolidation of previous programs. Grants have been awarded every five years, and 2017 marks the third cycle of ACE grants.

“These awards will allow us to understand how autism differs in girls versus boys, to develop earlier methods of screening, and to improve treatments based on specific symptoms,” said Diana Bianchi, director of NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, one of five institutes funding the ACE program.

In addition to NICHD, the ACE program is supported by NIH’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

The ACE awards seek to build on discoveries of the last 10 years by supporting research that promises to yield interventions and services for people with ASD. The awards will support research at individual centers or at research networks that involve multiple institutions dedicated to the study of ASD.

The 2017 Center Grants Include:
University of California, Davis: Improving ASD treatments based on symptoms, features
University of California, Los Angeles: Tracing ASD symptoms to their origins
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut: Examining development of functional brain connections 
Duke University, Durham, North Carolina: Understanding and potentially treating ASD-ADHD combination
Emory University, Atlanta: Studying social interaction to identify the early signs of ASD
George Washington University, Washington, D.C.: Investigating how ASD differs between boys and girls
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Tracking brain development, behavior as ASD progresses
Drexel University, Philadelphia: Evaluating autism screening for all toddlers
Florida State University, Tallahassee: Testing parent coaching, home intervention for toddlers

September 7, 2017

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