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Recent Autism Gastrointestinal research funded by NIH

24 Jul

There are many parent advocates asking for research into gastrointestinal disorders and autism. My own anecdotal observations have been that these same parent advocates are of the belief that no work is ongoing. There are a number of projects ongoing and I’ve tried in the past to make that point (What projects are being funded in autism research? Part 1: vaccines and GI issues). I found 14 projects, nearly $3M in 2010. I found 11 projects for $1.7M in 2009.

I thought it time to revisit this question. I’m using a different data source–the NIH RePORTER database. Because of that these projects are those funded by NIH. Other Federal groups can and do fund autism research. Also private organizations like Autism Speaks

Below are the projects I found for the past few years. There are projects on epidemiology, treatment and biology.

While I think that the funding agencies could do a better job informing the communities about these projects, I sincerely wish that the parent advocacy groups calling for this research would inform their members that it is going on. I am actually very curious as to why they have not done that.

MECHANISMS OF AUTONOMIC BRAINSTEM DEVELOPMENT ($243,000)

Brainstem and autonomic circuitry, though understudied in neurodevelopmental disorders, are implicated in pathophysiology and co-occurring medical conditions, such as gastrointestinal disturbances (GID). The goal of this R21 project is to fill this knowledge gap, based on significant preliminary data.

CASEIN KINASE 1 INHIBITORS FOR TREATMENT OF AUTISM $349,610

The overall goal of our program is to (1) identify CK1 [Casein Kinase 1] inhibitors suitable for development as therapeutic agents and (2) to use these agents to investigate the suitability of CK1 inhibitors for addressing specific behavioral features of the complex, multi-symptom disorder known as autism.

The CADDRE SEED studies are multiyear but I haven’t listed all the grants. So the amount is much higher than even the substantial sums noted below.

MD CADDRE: STUDY TO EXPLORE EARLY DEVELOPMENT, SEED PHASE II $91,706

MD CADDRE: STUDY TO EXPLORE EARLY DEVELOPMENT, SEED PHASE II $1,600,000

CALIFORNIA CADDRE-SEED PHASE II $1,100,000

NC CADDRE: STUDY TO EXPLORE EARLY DEVELOPMENT (SEED) PHASE II $1,100,000

COLORADO CADDRE STUDY TO EXPLORE EARLY DEVELOPMENT CADDRE_SEED II $1,100,000

PA-CADDRE: STUDY TO EXPLORE EARLY DEVELOPMENT (SEED) PHASE II $1,100,000

SEED will address hypotheses including: ASD phenotypic variation, including the pattern of clustering of core symptoms, timing of onset, cognitive status, and presence of medical and psychiatric co-morbidities; gastrointestinal features; genetic variation and interaction with environmental risk factors (GxE); infection, immune function, and autoimmunity factors; hormonal factors and maternal reproductive characteristics; and sociodemographic and lifestyle factors.

INVESTIGATING THE GUT MICROBIOME FOR NOVEL THERAPIES AND DIAGNOSTICS FOR AUTISM $558,136 (also funded in 2013 for $558,136)

Based on compelling preliminary evidence, this project aims to explore the potential connection between GI barrier defects and altered behavior in preclinical models of autism. Our long-term goal is to explore possible serum biomarkers for ASD diagnosis, and potentially develop a novel probiotic therapy for at least a subset of children with ASD with GI issues.

2013 projects

TREATMENT OF MEDICAL CONDITIONS AMONG INDIVIDUALS WITH AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS $488,568 (also, $339,591 in 2012, $264,726 in 2011, $578,006 in 2010, $535,209 in 2009, and $465,840 in 2008)

The life-long impairments in communication and social function are often complicated by the presence of medical comorbidities, including epilepsy, (and epileptiform discharges), gastrointestinal disturbances and sleep disorders.

REGULATION OF GASTROINTESTINAL NEUROMUSCULAR FUNCTION BY NIBP/NFKB SIGNALING $320,576 (and 2012 $343,747)

The proposed research is relevant to public health because the discovery of a novel function of NIBP/NFkB signaling in enteric neurons and glial cells is ultimately expected to increase the understanding of the pathogenesis of gastrointestinal diseases. It also shed light on the therapeutics for gastrointestinal inflammation and functional disorders.

ARE AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS ASSOCIATED WITH LEAKY-GUT AT AN EARLY CRITIACAL PER $292,221 (and 2012 $302,820, and 2011 $302,820)

This project seeks to answer fundamental questions about the connection between early development of gastrointestinal (GI) problems (constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, etc.) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD)

From 2011

NEUROIMMUNOLOGIC INVESTIGATIONS OF AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS (ASD) $264,726

A number of anecdotal reports have linked autism with gastrointestinal (GI) dysfunction; most notable among these are reports that autism is associated with “leaky gut” syndrome. Microbial translocation (MT) is the process by which bacteria or microbial byproducts permeate through the wall of the GI Tract (or other abnormally porous mucosal barriers) into the bloodstream. The microbial byproducts would then stimulate the immune system, which could have secondary effects on CNS functioning, or the byproducts could have a direct neurotoxic effect. We conducted assays of MT products in children with autism (from blood and CSF), as well as typically developing children (blood samples only).

and

Our ongoing phenotyping studies will be used to identify a cohort of children with autism who also have significant gastrointestinal symptoms in order to address this potentially important subgroup of patients.

A PRIMATE MODEL OF GUT, IMMUNE, AND CNS RESPONSE TO CHILDHOOD VACCINES $156,634


By Matt Carey

Press Release: Common gene variants account for most genetic risk for autism

23 Jul

This press release is from NIH: Common gene variants account for most genetic risk for autism

Common gene variants account for most genetic risk for autism
Roles of heritability, mutations, environment estimated – NIH-funded study

Most of the genetic risk for autism comes from versions of genes that are common in the population rather than from rare variants or spontaneous glitches, researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health have found. Heritability also outweighed other risk factors in this largest study of its kind to date.

About 52 percent of the risk for autism was traced to common and rare inherited variation, with spontaneous mutations contributing a modest 2.6 percent of the total risk.

nimh-20_l

The bulk of risk, or liability, for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) was traced to inherited variations in the genetic code shared by many people. These and other (unaccounted) factors dwarfed contributions from rare inherited, non-additive and spontaneous (de novo) genetic factors. Source: Population-Based Autism Genetics and Environment Study
“Genetic variation likely accounts for roughly 60 percent of the liability for autism, with common variants comprising the bulk of its genetic architecture,” explained Joseph Buxbaum, Ph.D., of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS), New York City. “Although each exerts just a tiny effect individually, these common variations in the genetic code add up to substantial impact, taken together.”

Buxbaum, and colleagues of the Population-Based Autism Genetics and Environment Study (PAGES) Consortium, report on their findings in a unique Swedish sample in the journal Nature Genetics, July 20, 2014.

“Thanks to the boost in statistical power that comes with ample sample size, autism geneticists can now detect common as well as rare genetic variation associated with risk,” said Thomas R. Insel, M.D., director of the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). “Knowing the nature of the genetic risk will reveal clues to the molecular roots of the disorder. Common variation may be more important than we thought.”

Although autism is thought to be caused by an interplay of genetic and other factors, including environmental, consensus on their relative contributions and the outlines of its genetic architecture has remained elusive. Recently, evidence has been mounting that genomes of people with autism are prone to harboring rare mutations, often spontaneous, that exert strong effects and can largely account for particular cases of disease.

More challenging is to gauge the collective impact on autism risk of numerous variations in the genetic code shared by most people, which are individually much subtler in effect. Limitations of sample size and composition made it difficult to detect these effects and to estimate the relative influence of such common, rare inherited, and rare spontaneous variation.
Differences in methods and statistical models also resulted in sometimes wildly discrepant estimates of autism’s heritability – ranging from 17 to 50 percent.

Meanwhile, recent genome-wide studies of schizophrenia have achieved large enough sample sizes to reveal involvement of well over 100 common gene variants in that disorder. These promise improved understanding of the underlying biology – and even development of risk-scores, which could help predict who might benefit from early interventions to nip psychotic episodes in the bud.

With their new study, autism genetics is beginning to catch up, say the researchers. It was made possible by Sweden’s universal health registry, which allowed investigators to compare a very large sample of about 3,000 people with autism with matched controls. Researchers also brought to bear new statistical methods that allowed them to more reliably sort out the heritability of the disorder. In addition, they were able to compare their results with a parallel study in 1.6 million Swedish families, which took into account data from twins and cousins, and factors like age of the father at birth and parents’ psychiatric history. A best-fit statistical model took form, based mostly on combined effects of multiple genes and non-shared environmental factors.

“This is a different kind of analysis than employed in previous studies,” explained Thomas Lehner, Ph.D., chief of NIMH’s Genomics Research Branch. “Data from genome-wide association studies was used to identify a genetic model instead of focusing just on pinpointing genetic risk factors. The researchers were able to pick from all of the cases of illness within a population-based registry.”

Now that the genetic architecture is better understood, the researchers are identifying specific genetic risk factors detected in the sample, such as deletions and duplications of genetic material and spontaneous mutations. Even though such rare spontaneous mutations accounted for only a small fraction of autism risk, the potentially large effects of these glitches makes them important clues to understanding the molecular underpinnings of the disorder, say the researchers.

“Within a given family, the mutations could be a critical determinant that leads to the manifestation of ASD in a particular family member,” said Buxbaum. “The family may have common variation that puts it at risk, but if there is also a de novo [spontaneous] mutation on top of that, it could push an individual over the edge. So for many families, the interplay between common and spontaneous genetic factors could be the underlying genetic architecture of the disorder.”

New Study: Most genetic risk for autism resides with common variation

23 Jul

A new large study on autism genetics just came out: Most genetic risk for autism resides with common variation. The study is in Nature Genetics, one of the top journals.

The study is the latest in the evolved view of autism genetics. Contrary to political statements made by some groups, autism genetics is not about searching for a single “autism gene”. Here’s a quote from the CNN Blog that makes this clear:

Chris Gunter, an autism researcher at the Marcus Autism Center and professor at the Emory University School of Medicine, says the findings of this study are similar to those reported in other studies.

“There is no one gene for autism,” Gunter said. “Instead there are many different genetic variations which each contribute a little bit to the risk of developing the group of symptoms we diagnose as autism.”

No single autism gene. You might carry one or more genes which are associated with autism and not be autistic. But the more you have, the more your risk goes up. It may be linear: each variant has a “score” and you add them up and if your score is very high, you are autistic. Or it may be nonlinear: some genes in combination may create a greater risk than the sum of their individual risks. I don’t think they understand or have cataloged the genes well enough to say.

The researchers in this current paper are estimating about 60% of autism risk is genetic. Here’s a graphic showing the breakdown of the various risks–different types of genes (common genes that are inherited, rare genes that are inherited, new (de novo) mutations, etc.):

nimh-20_l

What does this mean for the future of autism research? It means that continuing to look at both genetics and environmental risk factors is valuable. As I’ve said before, from my perspective if autism risk is 10% genetic or 90% genetic, you still need to apply resources to both genetics and environmental risk factors.

Now to answer the more mundane questions. What does this mean for the vaccine epidemic? You can’t have a genetic epidemic (not really true, but good enough for this discussion)! This doesn’t fit with the idea that about 99% of autism is now caused by vaccines.

Yep. These data are yet another reason why your idea doesn’t work.

But isn’t this just blaming the mothers?

I’m always amazed when that argument comes up on autism genetics. And, yes, it does come up. Your children’s genetic makeup is neither a source of pride nor of blame. You really didn’t have any say in the matter. You didn’t create nor change your genes, how can you be blamed for the genes that your child inherits?

Won’t genetic research lead to aborting babies?

Maybe. If it does, it will be much different than the current situation with Down Syndrome. Autism doesn’t have many examples of single-genes, as this study points out. There have already been groups claiming to be working on tests involving multiple genes and autism risk scores.

Does this mean that the story is finished? That we have the last answer about how much risk is genetic and how much is environmental?

No. There will be more papers and more estimates. These are tough questions and knowledge evolves.

Here is the paper’s abstract:

A key component of genetic architecture is the allelic spectrum influencing trait variability. For autism spectrum disorder (herein termed autism), the nature of the allelic spectrum is uncertain. Individual risk-associated genes have been identified from rare variation, especially de novo mutations. From this evidence, one might conclude that rare variation dominates the allelic spectrum in autism, yet recent studies show that common variation, individually of small effect, has substantial impact en masse. At issue is how much of an impact relative to rare variation this common variation has. Using a unique epidemiological sample from Sweden, new methods that distinguish total narrow-sense heritability from that due to common variation and synthesis of results from other studies, we reach several conclusions about autism’s genetic architecture: its narrow-sense heritability is ∼52.4%, with most due to common variation, and rare de novo mutations contribute substantially to individual liability, yet their contribution to variance in liability, 2.6%, is modest compared to that for heritable variation.


By Matt Carey

Is Boyd Haley resurrecting OSR#1 as a chelator?

22 Jul

Boyd Haley was a professor of chemistry who was very active in the failed thimerosal-causes-autism movement. He earned extra notoriety for trying to coin the phrase “mad child disease” (yes, a variation of mad cow disease) for autistic children. He also found notoriety for marketing a synthetic chemical as a “nutritional supplement”, calling it OSR#1. Prof. Haley is certainly persistent. He’s working on a clinical trial.

How did this come to pass? Well, one of the professors in Prof. Haley’s department found that a certain compound could effectively treat mining waste, removing mercury. Given his own interests, Mr. Haley started a company with an investor with the intent to bring this chelator to the public. The chelators used in medicine today were developed for lead and have been expanded to also treat mercury. I.e. there is no mercury specific chelator and this new compound would fill that gap.

All well and good, but in his zeal to bring this product to market, Prof. Haley cut a few corners. Chelators are drugs. The compound he was working on was synthetic. But Prof. Haley chose to rush the product to market as a “nutritional supplement”. Instead of calling it a chelator, he called it OSR#1. OSR standing for “oxidative stress relief”. Mr. Haley skipped the process to prove that his drug was safe and effective. Supplements have a much lower standard for safety and efficacy testing.

The FDA was not fooled. Mr. Haley and his company were given a warning letter which pointed out that the compound is not a supplement, it is a drug:

Your firm markets OSR#l as a dietary supplement; however, this product does not meet the definition of a dietary supplement in section 201(ff) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. § 321(ff). To be a dietary supplement, a product must, among other things, “bear[ ] or contain[ ] one or more … dietary ingredients” as defined in section 201(ff)(1) of the Act, 21 U.S.C.§ 321(ff)(1). Section 201 (ff)(1) of the Act defines “dietary ingredient” as a vitamin, mineral, amino acid, herb or other botanical, or dietary substance for use by man to supplement the diet by increasing the total dietary intake, or a concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract or combination of any dietary ingredient from the preceding categories. The only substance listed as a dietary ingredient on the labeling of OSR#1 is N1,N3-bis(2-mercaptoethyl)isophthalamide. N1,N3-bis(2mercaptoethyl) isophthalamide is not a vitamin, mineral, amino acid, herb or other botanical, or dietary substance for use by man to supplement the diet by increasing the total dietary intake. Further, N1,N3-bis(2-mercaptoethyl)isophthalamide is not a concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract or combination of any such dietary ingredient. Thus, because OSR#1 does not bear or contain a dietary ingredient as defined in section 201(ff)(1) of the Act, this product does not qualify as a dietary supplement under section 201(ff) of the Act.

Also that the company was making claims that the drug could treat medical conditions and that the labeling was misleading in this regard. Further, that the toxicity was not adequately tested nor reported.

Your website states that” [s]ome reports of temporary diarrhea, constipation, minor headaches have been reported but these are rare and the actual causes are unknown,” as well as “OSR#1 is without detectable toxicity” and “OSR#1® … has not exhibited any detectable toxic effects even at exceptionally high exposure levels.” However, animal studies that you conducted found various side effects to be associated with OSR#1 use, including, but not limited to, soiling of the anogenital area, alopecia on the lower trunk, back and legs, a dark substance on lower trunk and anogenital area, abnormalities of the pancreas, and lymphoid hyperplasia. Based on these animal studies and side effects known to be associated with chelating products that have a similar mechanism of action to OSR#1, we believe the use of your product has the potential to cause side effects, and the before-mentioned website statements falsely assert that the product does not have the potential to cause side effects. Therefore, these statements render your product’s labeling false or misleading. As such, OSR#1 is misbranded under section 502(a) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. § 352(a).

That was in 2010. Prof. Haley and his company are now back, trying to get a clinical trial started on their compound. Essentially, they are trying to do what they should have done in the first place: get proper approval for a drug. An article in Chemical & Engineering News discusses this effort. Actually, it’s part of the cover story, “Building Pharma Molecules”

buildingpharma

The story on Mr. Haley’s Company, CTI Science, has contracted with another company, PCI Synthesis, to manufacture the new compound.

haley2

The article is, well, a bit of a sales pitch and gets a few facts wrong. There’s a bit of spin on the FDA warning letter, for example:

“The effort to develop the compound as a mercury poisoning therapy accelerated in 2010 when the company received notification from FDA that it couldn’t market NBMI as a nutritional supplement until it underwent the full drug approval process”.

As we’ve just seen above, the compound is not a nutritional supplement at all. It needs the drug approval process because it is a drug.

The CEO of PCI is quoted as stating:

“The main starting material is cysteamine hydrochloride, which is basically an amino acid and found naturally. So it has attributes that could qualify it as a natural product.”

Which was part of the sales pitch for the OSR#1 in the old days and, again, the FDA disagreed. Just because something is synthesized from a natural product, that doesn’t make it a natural product. Otherwise there would be no synthetic products at all. Everything at some level comes from a natural product.

The article discusses how to qualify for a clinical trial the product must meet current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP). The article states:

The primary challenge was the removal of impurities to a level that meets cGMP standards

Think about that a moment. Apparently OSR#1 was sold with more impurities than would meet this standard–a standard for food and dietary supplements.

The article notes that, yes, this compound was sold as a product at one time

Sales to date: $1.5 million, as a nutritional supplement

$1.5M in sales. And the only reason it wasn’t higher was because the FDA stepped in. It was only out for about a year, as I recall.

I found this statement interesting, from the Wikipedia page for the compound:

In animal experiments, the amount of mercury in brain tissue was not increased, but also not decreased

So, even if you believe in the failed mercury hypothesis. What exactly were you supposed to get from this compound? I somehow doubt that even the strong believers in the mercury hypothesis think that removing mercury from, say, your liver will cure autism.

It does seem that Mr. Haley and his company are doing some of the right things now. Show that this drug is safe and effective for its intended purpose: chelation. There are some problematical statements that they may market this not as a drug but as a nutritional supplement, which is a non-starter.


By Matt Carey

Environmental risk factor related research funded by the NIH in 2014

18 Jul

There is a great interest from some in the autism parent community for environmental risk factor research. There is also a belief that this work is not being performed. While the amount of environmental risk factor research is less than the IACC has advised be performed (a point I made in my first IACC meeting), the amount of attention to environmental risk factors has been increasing.

Given this, I thought it would be interesting to see what projects and how many have been funded by the NIH this year (I believe they work on a fiscal year ending Sept. 30, so we have much but not all of the 2014 information available). I used the NIH Reporter website and did a very unscientific search for autism and environment, autism and risk and similar searches.

Below are the funded projects I’ve found. Some are directly on topic. Some more peripherally. And I know I’ve left some out (some on purpose–like Zebrafish studies–and some I missed). I think there are 33 projects below. Something like $20M. Keep in mind, not all Federally funded autism research goes through the NIH and not all autism research is Federally funded.

As I like to point out in these articles, you won’t find this information on the websites of the autism organizations which claim to be focused on environmental risk factor research. In fact, you are more likely to find statements that there is no such research ongoing or it is being blocked.

Here’s a quote from Sallie Bernard of SafeMinds, a quote that was repeated by Congressman Posey at a hearing held last year on autism:

“By ignoring the environmental component to autism, the government and scientific community have made a massive strategic error, wasting enormous amounts of money and time in mostly fruitless genetics-only research that has not helped us stop new cases of autism or helped people living with severe autism”

I think one can argue that more investment should be made. But “ignoring”? I realize that very few people will go to NIH Reporter and search for these projects. But I expect accuracy from those claiming to lead the autism community and acting as though they know the research landscape on autism and the environment.

I was going to ignore the “fruitless” comment above, but I just can’t. I sat on the subgroup writing the IACC’s updates on risk factor research in the Strategic Plan (question 3). As part of that I had the honor of working with some excellent researchers, both on the genetics and the environmental side. If I may be so bold as to relate what I heard in those discussions: I never heard these researchers claim that the genetics research was “fruitless”. Quite the opposite. Was there a strong sense that environmental risk factor research could be better funded? That was certainly my take away. And I agree. My predecessors on the IACC wrote a Plan that called for more research in this area.

That said, I am reminded of my favorite old saying

There’s more politics in science than science in politics.

Except quite frankly, I don’t think the message that environmental risk factor research is being “ignored” and “fruitless” has anything to do with science. It’s just politics.

Here’s that list of funded research (in no particular order):

POPULATION-BASED AUTISM GENETICS & ENVIRONMENT STUDY $655,813

PROSPECTIVE EVALUATION OF AIR POLLUTION, COGNITION, AND AUTISM FROM BIRTH ONWARD $545,679

PESTICIDE EXPOSURE AND CHILDHOOD AUTISM $184,503

PRENATAL TIMING OF HEAVY METAL EXPOSURES FROM AUTISTIC AND NON-AUTISTIC CHILDREN $231,692

MD CADDRE: STUDY TO EXPLORE EARLY DEVELOPMENT, SEED PHASE II $91,706

ANTECEDANTS SEQUELAE OF CHILDHOOD ONSET DISEASE $432,000

MITOCHONDRIAL DYSFUNCTION DUE TO ABERRANT MTOR-REGULATED MITOPHAGY IN AUTISM $183,568

PRENATAL AND NEONATAL BIOLOGIC MARKERS FOR AUTISM $784,863

AUTISM RISK, PRENATAL ENVIRONMENTAL EXPOSURES, AND PATHOPHYSIOLOGIC MARKERS $1,793,611

THE ROLES OF ENVIRONMENTAL RISKS AND GEX IN INCREASING ASD PREVALENCE $537,756

METHYLOMIC AND GENOMIC IMPACTS OF ORGANIC POLLUTANTS IN DUP15Q SYNDROME $341,921

EPIDEMIOLOGICAL RESEARCH ON AUTISM IN JAMAICA – PHASE II $564,795

EARLY PREGNANCY STRESS PROGRAMMING OF OFFSPRING EMOTIONALITY $396,000

GENOME-WIDE IDENTIFICATION OF VARIANTS AFFECTING EARLY HUMAN BRAIN DEVELOPMENT $413,630

EPIGENETIC AND TRANSCRIPTIONAL DYSREGULATION IN AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER $531,208

EPIGENETIC INFLUENCE ON THYROID HORMONE ACTION IN THE BRAIN AND ON BEHAVIOR $391,250

MATERNAL ADVERSITY AND EPIGENETIC AND BEHAVIORAL PROGRAMMING ACROSS GENERATIONS $583,246

EXPLORING INTERACTIONS BETWEEN FOLATE AND ENVIRONMENTAL RISK FACTORS FOR AUTISM $118,717

MD CADDRE: STUDY TO EXPLORE EARLY DEVELOPMENT, SEED PHASE II $1,600,000

CALIFORNIA CADDRE-SEED PHASE II $1,100,000

NC CADDRE: STUDY TO EXPLORE EARLY DEVELOPMENT (SEED) PHASE II $1,100,000

COLORADO CADDRE STUDY TO EXPLORE EARLY DEVELOPMENT CADDRE_SEED II $1,100,000

PA-CADDRE: STUDY TO EXPLORE EARLY DEVELOPMENT (SEED) PHASE II $1,100,000

SEX-DEPENDENT MICROGLIAL COLONIZATION AND VULNERABILITY TO A NEONATAL INFECTION $272,270

PRENATAL SEX STEROIDS, BISPHENOL A, PHTHALATES, AND SEXUALLY DIMORPHIC BEHAVIORS $244,996

ENVIRONMENT, IMPRINTING, AND NEURODEVELOPMENT $799,726

IN UTERO ANTIDEPRESSANT EXPOSURES AND RISK FOR AUTISM $348,000

SEX DIFFERENCES IN DEVELOPING MICROGLIA: IMPLICATIONS FOR SYNAPTIC PRUNING $392,500

ARE ENDOCRINE DISRUPTING COMPOUNDS ENVIRONMENTAL RISK FACTORS FOR AUTISM? $237,750

THE EFFECT OF MATERNAL OBESITY AND INFLAMMATION ON NEURONAL AND MICROGLIAL FUNCTI $78,250

TRANSCRIPTIONAL AND EPIGENETIC SIGNATURES OF HUMAN BRAIN DEVELOPMENT AND AUTISM $1,542,279

PROJECT 2: THE IMPACT OF ASSISTED REPRODUCTIVE TECHNOLOGIES ON THE LONG-TERM EPI $266,000

PRENATAL FACTORS AND RISK OF AUTISM IN A FINNISH NATIONAL BIRTH COHORT $579,293

One last note: I don’t see funding for the EARLI network. That strikes me as a shame.


By Matt Carey

Note: I serve as a public member to the IACC but all statements are my own.

More of that vaccine/autism research that doesn’t exist

17 Jul

There are some parents who want research on vaccines and autism. I may not agree that this is the best way to spend our limited resources, but there’s no denying that this group exists and is very vocal. One thing that surprises me is that these parents appear to be unaware of vaccine/autism research that is ongoing. Not just the studies that come out that show us over and over again that autism risk is not increased by vaccines. But other projects. Biology. Studies on regression. And more. I pointed out recently that using NIH Reporter, one can find a number of projects on autism and vaccines or autism and mercury.

But NIH is not the only Federal agency funding autism research. And there are private funders as well. As I mentioned in my previous article, another place to look for funded research projects is the IACC/OARC Autism Spectrum Disorder Research Portfolio Analysis Web Tool as this includes work the various groups represented on the IACC–both Federal and Private. Unfortunately, this tool only has 2008, 2009 and 2010 projects (had the GAO not required OARC to provide a lot of information last year, perhaps this tool would be updated by now. But such is the government.) But, even with this limitation in years, let’s see what projects come up with searches for vaccines or mercury. I’ll give the titles first, and then the abstracts for these projects below.

It’s understandable that parent advocates are not aware of these projects. I’ve written about this before (“What projects are being funded in autism research? Part 1: vaccines and GI issues”) but I think it’s safe to say that parents who believe in the vaccine/autism connection do not frequent Left Brain/Right Brain. There are places on the web that carry that message (for example, the Age of Autism blog and the sites of the organizations that sponsor it). They aren’t telling their constituencies about the ongoing research efforts. As an example, as I was finishing this article, SafeMinds came out with a letter discussing how no work is being performed on vaccines and autism.

Again, this list is only for 2008, 2009 and 2010. More recent projects from NIH were discussed here.

Vulnerability phenotypes and susceptibility to environmental toxicants: From organism to mechanism (funded by Autism Speaks)

Evaluation of the immune and physiologic response in children with autism following immune challenge (funded by Autism Speaks)

Vaccination with regression study (funded by Autism Speaks)

Vaccine safety datalink thimerosol and autism study (Federally Funded)

Analysis of developmental interactions between reelin haploinsufficiency, male sex, and mercury exposure (Funded by Autism Speaks)

MeHG stimulates antiapoptotic signaling in stem cells (Federally funded: DoD)

Etiology of autism risk involving MET gene and the environment (Funded by Autism Speaks)

Epidemiological research on autism in Jamaica (Federally Funded, NIH)

investigation on the potential harmful effects of mercury in the nonhuman primate (Funded by SafeMinds)

Investigating the effect of mercury on ASD, AD and ASD regression (Funded by SafeMinds)

The effect of mercury and neuropeptide triggers on human mast cell release of neurotoxic molecules (Funded by SafeMinds)

Does mercury and neurotension induce mitochondrial DNA release from human mast cells and contribute to auto-immunity in ASD? (Funded by SafeMinds)

Toxicant-induced autism and mitochondrial modulation of nuclear gene expression (Federally Funded: DoD)

Below are the abstracts for these research projects.

Vulnerability phenotypes and susceptibility to environmental toxicants: From organism to mechanism (funded by Autism Speaks)

One hypothesis regarding the association between genetic changes, environmental factors and autism is that many mutations or polymorphisms make the organism more vulnerable to later exposure in some individuals. Called the “vulnerability phenotype”, the Noble lab hypothesizes that one potential unifying theme of the vulnerability phenotype of children with ASD is that they are more oxidized. This elevated oxidation state has been shown to be sufficient to cause dramatic changes in cellular function. In this project, Dr. Noble will test the hypotheses that genetically-based differences in oxidative status are associated with differences in vulnerability to physiological stressors in vitro and in vivo, with even greater increases in vulnerability to combinations of physiological stressors. Specifically, thimerosal and other vaccine adjuvants will be studied. The second part of the study will determine if these effects on a novel regulatory pathway called redox/Fyn/c-Cbl is a necessary mechanistic convergence for increases in vulnerability caused by a more oxidized metabolic status. These results will provide a better understanding of the biochemical effects and mechanisms of possible toxicity of vaccines and vaccine additives. What this means for people with autism: These studies will initially focus on the combination of vaccine additives, but then examine whether a background genetic vulnerability phenotype affects the response to these additives. The results would provide new targets for intervention against the adverse effects of increased oxidative status in children with autism.


Evaluation of the immune and physiologic response in children with autism following immune challenge
(funded by Autism Speaks)

The overall goal of this proposal is to address immune function in children with autism, including the response to vaccine challenge, and how that relates to behavior. Evidence suggests that autism is associated in some cases with altered immune function, but the response of the immune system in children with autism to specific immune challenges, such as vaccines, has not been investigated directly. While it has been reported that some children with autism respond poorly following vaccination with symptoms ranging from rash, diarrhea, irritability, seizures, and loss of skills, no careful, thorough approach has been undertaken to fully characterize this issue, both at the biology and behavior level. We propose to use our current CHARGE (Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment) and Autism Phenome Project (APP) study population to address this critical issue. The overall approach would include an examination of the immune response to both viral and bacterial vaccines in children with autism, as compared to typically developing age-matched controls, in real time following vaccination at 5 years of age. Vaccines have advantages for directly studying the immune response as they provide a known, scheduled immune challenge, whose dose is well characterized – making it possible to collect and interpret immune response data at the time that it occurs. Therefore, we think that exposure to an immune challenge with vaccine would result in an increase in inflammation compared to controls in a subpopulation of children with autism. However, we also anticipate that some children will respond to vaccine challenge differently, depending on form of the vaccine, i.e. viral vs. bacterial. Thus, we propose to address the issue of immune function in children with autism through a careful analysis of the immune system, medical and mitochondrial issues, and behavioral response to both viral and bacterial vaccines.

Vaccination with regression study (funded by Autism Speaks)

A major challenge to studying autism with a suspected vaccine-related regression is identifying children with acute regressive-type symptoms following MMR vaccination; there are no specific codes, tests, or procedures that identify this occurrence with a high degree of specificity. This study will explore the Kaiser Permanente electronic databases to ascertain whether we can identify children with regressive type autism and identify the timing of the regression in relation to the period directly following MMR vaccination. In order to see if identification of regressive autism from medical records is possible, the investigators will attempt to identify children vaccinated with MMR who then abruptly undergo a ‘cluster’ of visits, tests, and/or procedures in the time period directly following vaccination. The researchers feel that there may be a number of children who receive a diagnosis (such as ‘prolonged crying’) in the emergency department on the day after vaccination, followed shortly thereafter (1-2 days later) by another set of diagnoses (such as ‘fever’ & ‘irritability’) in the pediatric office or other outpatient department, and then receive either diagnostic or laboratory tests indicating (at least) a moderate degree of severity of concern, such as CT scans, metabolic testing, or referral to neurology. If this study is successful in using medical databases to identify a specific group of children with demonstrable autism-related regression that clearly follows vaccination, it may point to the feasibility of further studies concentrating on this specific population.

Vaccine safety datalink thimerosol and autism study (Federally Funded)

The Thimerosal and Autism Study is a case-control study conducted in three U.S. managed care organizations (MCOs). Data collection began in 2005 and took three years to complete. In this study, children who were diagnosed with autism were matched with control children. The autism diagnosis of the case samples was confirmed by a standardized clinical assessment protocol. Vaccination histories and information on other potential confounding factors were confirmed by reviewing the medical records for all children. In addition, the mothers of both cases and matched controls were interviewed.

Analysis of developmental interactions between reelin haploinsufficiency, male sex, and mercury exposure (Funded by Autism Speaks)

This project will investigate the role of three separate factors in an animal model of autism spectrum disorder: a) genetic susceptibility, b) hormonal environment, and c) possible environmental triggers. A mouse model with a mutation of the reelin gene, implicated in autism spectrum disorders, will be studied after exposure to methyl and ethyl mercury. Both behaviors and neuropathological endpoints will be explored. Finally, the role of endogenous sex hormones will be examined by eliminating the testosterone “surge” around the time of puberty. The individual effects of each will be examined, as well as the interaction of the three components (genetic liability, environmental exposure, hormonal influences) to determine gene x environment interactions. What this means for people with autism: This study will use a unique design to study multiple factors in the etiology of autism spectrum disorder in a mouse model, isolating and combining factors which previously have been implicated in the pathophysiology and behavioral phenotype.

MeHG stimulates antiapoptotic signaling in stem cells (Federally funded: DoD)

This project is a study of the antiapoptotic effect of low concentration of methly mercury and cadmium in cells.

Etiology of autism risk involving MET gene and the environment (Funded by Autism Speaks)

Two independent lines of evidence indicate that the maternal immune system and a functional genetic variant contribute to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) risk. Here, the Van De Water lab will partner with scientists at Vanderbilt University to examine whether these two seemingly unrelated contributions may converge to define a unique ASD susceptibility. Preliminary evidence collected by the Van De Water lab indicates an association between the Mesenchymal epithelial transition factor (MET) gene ‘C’ type, which reduces MET protein expression, and the presence of specific maternal anti-fetal brain autoantibodies. This relationship suggests that this as a pathway for production of the maternal autoantibodies, leading to a gene x environment interaction underlying ASD susceptibility. The next line of experiments will examine the relationship in an even larger sample and assess the functional effect of the MET gene polymorphism on immune cell activity as well as further examine the impact of environmental toxins (including ethyl mercury) on the gene expression-dependent function of maternal immune cells.

Epidemiological research on autism in Jamaica (Federally Funded, NIH)

The prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) appears to be on the rise in developed countries and has become a serious public health concern. In most developing countries, however, the nature and prevalence of factors associated with ASDs are unknown. The long term goal of this planning project is to develop capacity for conducting large scale population-based ASD studies in Jamaica. First, the diagnostic criteria used in Jamaica and the United States will be compared. Then, questionnaires regarding the demographic and socioeconomic position, occupation, and drinking habits of each child’s parents will be used, and information will be gathered about family history of developmental disorders, family size, birth order of the affected child, and whether the child is taking any medications. An age and sex matched case-control study, including a dietary questionnaire, will also be conducted to investigate whether environmental exposures to mercury, lead, arsenic, and cadmium play a role in autism. Blood and saliva samples will be collected to determine if any DNA polymorphisms that might affect interactions with heavy metals are present in children with ASD. New knowledge of potential environmental risk factors for ASD may arise from this research, thereby reducing physical, psychological, and economic burdens on the child, family, and society and helping parents make decisions about avoiding exposure to environmental contaminants.

An investigation on the potential harmful effects of mercury in the nonhuman primate (Funded by SafeMinds)

An investigation into the effect of mercury on neurons, astrocytes, and microglia on the central nervous system of the nonhuman primate.

Investigating the effect of mercury on ASD, AD and ASD regression (Funded by SafeMinds)

An investigation into the influences of demographics and environmental variables in the development of neurodevelopmental problems such as AD, ASD, and ASD-regression

The effect of mercury and neuropeptide triggers on human mast cell release of neurotoxic molecules (Funded by SafeMinds)

An investigation to determine the pro-inflammatory effects of mitochondrial DNA with and without mast cell triggers.

Does mercury and neurotension induce mitochondrial DNA release from human mast cells and contribute to auto-immunity in ASD? (Funded by SafeMinds)

Further investigation into preliminary data that neurotensin (NT) stimulates mast cell activation and that NT is elevated in young children with autism spectrum disorder.

Toxicant-induced autism and mitochondrial modulation of nuclear gene expression (Federally Funded: DoD)

Autism has been associated with epigenetic changes: Tiny chemical tags in the regulatory regions of genes that affect how genes express themselves by turning them on or off. One gene often decreased in expression in the brain tissue of autistic individuals is MECP2, a gene that governs the expression of genes crucial to brain development. Exposure to environmental pollutants is also thought to play a role in autism. These two phenomena both involve a small cellular organ called mitochondria. The suspect environmental pollutants are toxic to mitochondria, which play a critical role in epigenetics: Pollution exposure can lower the amount of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in a cell, causing an increase in placement of epigenetic tags by DNMT1 that leads to gene silencing. We hypothesize that exposure during pregnancy to pollutants toxic to mitochondria causes a decrease in mtDNA copy number and increased placement of epigenetic tags by DNMT1 on key developmental genes, affecting pathways that have direct roles in the development of autism. We will expose mice, during pregnancy, to selected toxicants and evaluate adult behavior and associated biochemical changes in brain tissue. Valproic acid will be used as a positive control, with saline as a negative control. The environmental pollutants lead, arsenic, cadmium, manganese, mercury, and permethrin will be investigated for their potential to induce autistic behavior changes. Brain tissue will then be used for molecular studies of mtDNA copy number, expression of DNMT1, and alterations to the epigenome on both a genomewide and gene-specific level.


By Matt Carey

Note: I serve as a public member to the IACC. My views here and elsewhere are my own, not those of the Committee.

No, the autism prevalence in Denmark did not go down with the removal of thimerosal (again!)

17 Jul

There’s a story that goes around the vaccine/autism groups that, contrary to published reports, the autism rate in Denmark went down after thimerosal was removed from their vaccines. Of course, this is all part of a cover-up. I discussed this previously in No, the autism prevalence in Denmark did not go down with the removal of thimerosal. In that piece, I looked at a number of published studies and found that the autism rate in Denmark has continued to climb post thimerosal. Later, a study came out which in one place listed autism prevalence vs year for Denmark, and I discussed that as Autism, Denmark and again no link with vaccines.

Denmark removed thimerosal from pediatric vaccines in 1992. One of the graphs I created from the published data is here:

See how the prevalence of childhood autism (autistic disorder, dark purple bars) is higher for all birth years post 1992? ASD prevalence (lighter bars) is more complex–it peaks. ASD prevalence is higher for most years after 1992, but there is that peak. At the time I speculated that someone would rework these data and claim “see! there was a drop! Vaccines cause autism!”. It would be very dishonest and misleading, so I’m not surprised to see that the Age of Autism blog did exactly that.. Let me take a second to discuss how this is dishonest. First, the prevalence of childhood autism is always higher post 1992. This is what the Age of Autism and similar sites consider “real autism”, but they just ignore that. Even one of their own commenters asked about this and was ignored. Next, even with the apparent peak in ASD prevalence, the prevalence is higher for kids borh after 1992. If thimerosal was the primary cause of autism (or even a large cause), the prevalence should have dropped immediately after 1992 in both the childhood autism and ASD groups. It didn’t.

Why is there a peak in the ASD prevalence? Most likely years of follow up. Kids with, say, Asperger syndrome are diagnosed later. The data in the graph above were for kids diagnosed by 2010. So the kids in birth year 2004 were only 6 when the study was performed and fewer of them were diagnosed by the time the study was performed.

At age 6, many autistics remain undiagnosed. If you are skeptical that kids are diagnosed late, read on.

Another study has been recently published on autism prevalence in Denmark, The increasing prevalence of reported diagnoses of childhood psychiatric disorders: a descriptive multinational comparison. In this study they compared autism prevalence as well as ADD, Tourette syndrome and OCD in 3 different countries and noted that the trends were similar. The Simons Foundation SFARI blog has covered this in Autism not the only neurodevelopmental disorder on the rise.

Thimerosal was removed in Denmark in 1992. The autism prevalence increased after that. Same for Sweden. I’m not sure when Finland phased out thimerosal, but I suspect it’s about the same time. In which case, again, the rise in prevalence following the removal works against the thimerosal hypothesis.

This all said, what caught my eye was the supplemental material available with the paper. They show autism prevalence for various birth cohorts by age. For example, for kids born in 1990-1992, the authors give the autism prevalence at age 5, 8, 10, 15 and 20.

But, you say, it’s autism prevalence, how can it change with age? Autism is obvious and once the DSM IV was published, everyone has the exact same idea of who is autistic, right? Let’s use these data to see. Autism prevalence is almost always the prevalence of identified autism. Which is to say, it’s a count of who has a diagnosis already. If someone isn’t diagnosed, s/he isn’t counted in these sorts of prevalence reports. So, we can test the idea that (a) autism is obvious and (b) the understanding of what autism is doesn’t change.

So let’s look at data for Danes born in 1990-92. Autism prevalence vs age. If autism is obvious and the definition isn’t changing, this should be a level line. Or, let’s say, after an initial increase as kids are diagnosed, this will be a flat line. Right? Oh, you know with this much of a lead in, this isn’t going to be the case.

denmark1

The line is not just a guide to the eye. It’s a fit. For some reason, these data are almost a straight line. Autism prevalence increased as the kids aged.

edit to add: in case you prefer bar graphs I’ve added one (for both, click to enlarge).

denmark2

Consider just the last two points: age 15 and age 20. Autism prevalence went from 73.4 to 109.7 per 10,000. That’s like a 50% increase in 5 years! Is that an epidemic? No. Those autistics were always there. Just uncounted. And they were 15 years old. They were missed.

There are a few ways to look at the increase in autism prevalence in Denmark, the US and elsewhere:

1) The rates reported are accurate counts of how much of our population is autistic and, thus, represent a real increase.
2) There are social influences like shifts in our understanding of what is autism and how well we can diagnose autism and these are behind the increase.
3) Much of the increase is socially driven. It could be all. We can’t rule out that some is a real increase.

It’s not hard to see that (3) fits the data.

People pushing the idea of an autism epidemic don’t even accept that social factors and “real” increases are on the same footing. No, they promote the idea that social influences are a “denial” mechanism. But the fact is, there are data showing that social influences have had a huge impact on autism prevalence. The only data pointing to a “real” increase are those linking increased risk of older parents with increasing age of parents to the autism prevalence (estimated to account for 4-10% of the observed increase in California). This is both a “real” increase and a socially driven increase, by the way.

For what it’s worth, “real” isn’t in “scare quotes”. Some people use “real” to mean “a secular increase in autism prevalence. An actual increase in the fraction of autistics born.” Social factors are real, making real changes in autism prevalence.

Lastly, people will say, “autism is a crisis! If you don’t acknowledge the epidemic you aren’t taking this seriously!” Crisis: a difficult or dangerous situation that needs serious attention. Crisis does not equate to epidemic.

The fact that autistics are being missed *is* a crisis. It is something I take seriously and feel “needs serious attention”. Also, the idea that there could be an increase in autism prevalence is a very serious question getting very serious attention.

Are those promoting the “vaccine epidemic” idea actually treating autism as a crisis? No, they are not. Avoiding the question of undiagnosed autistics is denialism and is hurting our communities.

I know this article is pounding nails into a coffin that is already not only nailed shut, but arc-welded shut and then encased in concrete. Beyond that, the acceptance for the thimerosal causation idea–which was never a majority idea among parents– has waned, dramatically. New parents know their kids were not exposed to thimerosal. That, more than anything, killed the hypothesis within the autism parent community. Parents aren’t chelating their kids any more. The idea is dead. Sure there’s a hard core of believers still talking about it. And, more, they use this idea to scare others about vaccines.

Why talk about it then? For those few people who do get suck into the autism-as-mercury-poisoning world today. It’s still a very damaging notion, leading parents to lead lives of guilt and to become a ready market for the faux-therapies that have been built around the thimerosal idea. They need to know–the idea has no merit, whatsoever. The data are as clear as data can get. Thimerosal in vaccines doesn’t cause autism.


By Matt Carey

MMS, now trying to scam the Irish

15 Jul

MMS. Magical Mineral Solution. CD. Chlorine Dioxide protocol. It has many names. And it’s a scam. Hiding behind a “church”. And now the Irish get to battle this.

Magic Mineral Solution isn’t magic and it isn’t a mineral solution. It’s a bleach. And among the various scams is the idea that if you force your autistic kid to drink this bleach or take this bleach as an enema, you can cure your child’s autism.

The Irish Examiner has a story: ‘Miracle solution can cure autism’. It’s about how the proprietor of the “church” that is pushing MMS telling an Irish mother that it is a “fact” that MMS can cure autism….and asking for a hefty donation.

When Ms O Leary asked if MMS “could really cure autism”, she alleges Mr Christopher replied it was not a possibility but a fact — a claim also made about numerous conditions on the Genesis II Church website.

Ms O Leary was then sent an email, giving directions to the seminar, and asking her for a €295 donation.

And also:

In 2012, after three hospital admissions and other incidents linked to MMS, Dr Naren Gunja of New South Wales’ Poisons Information Centre in Australia told the Sydney Morning Herald: “It’s a bit like drinking concentrated bleach. They’ve had corrosive injuries: vomiting, stomach pains, diarrhoea.

“If you drink enough sodium chlorite it causes kidney problems, it could cause death.”

By the way, if someone tells you that MMS isn’t a bleach, yeah, it’s a bleach. Calling it “CD” doesn’t change that.

And if they say it’s safe, they are wrong. If they say it cures autism. Run. Here’s a bit from a recent FDA warning:

•Miracle Mineral Solution. Also known as Miracle Mineral Supplement and MMS, this product becomes a potent chemical that‘s used as bleach when mixed according to package directions. FDA has received reports of consumers who say they experienced nausea, severe vomiting and life-threatening low blood pressure after drinking the MMS and citrus juice mixture.

Irish Central has: Irish warned of poisonous ‘miracle cure’ being peddled by US church (VIDEO). I feel both sad that we in the U.S. didn’t stop this nonsense before it exported to Ireland…and jealous that the Irish and their newspapers are quick to spread the word about MMS.

And, back at the Irish Examiner: Drugs watchdog investigating ‘miracle’ cure.

Ireland’s drugs watchdog is investigating at least two people based in this country who are believed to be selling or administering a “miracle” cure for serious conditions, which is in reality a potent bleach.

The Irish Independent: Irish patients warned ‘miracle cure’ from US church is bleach. And the Southern Star has Warning about Genesis II Church.

MMS got it’s foothold in the autism community through the AutismOne conferences. Here in the U.S., gatherings like AutismOne sell all manner of faux therapies for autism. AutismOne will take just about anyone’s money to present a cure, especially if it is sold as healing “vaccine injury”.

So, with apologies to Ireland. We know this is a scam, but we can’t stop it here. I wish you better luck. Be grateful that your press has jumped to inform you. Our press is still trying to figure out if keeping disabled children from being forced to drink bleach is a worthwhile story.


By Matt Carey

IACC releases 2013 Strategic Plan Update

20 May

The U.S. Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee releases each year an update the Strategic Plan for ASD Research. This year’s update differs from previous years in that the format was more retrospective: an accounting of the changes in research and understanding in the past five years.

Below is the press release from the Office of Autism Research Coordination announcing the update:

2013 IACC Strategic Plan Update Provides Accounting of ASD Research Progress Over Last 5 Years (pdf-45KB)

The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) has released its 2013 Strategic Plan Update, which provides an overview of funding and scientific advances made in autism research since 2009, when the IACC Strategic Plan for ASD Research was first published. Approximately $1.5 billion has been dedicated to ASD research over the past 5 years through the combined efforts of U.S. government agencies and private organizations. The 2013 Strategic Plan Update describes funding trends and research advances that capture the significant progress that has been made in all seven critical research areas of the Strategic Plan over the past 5 years, providing an accounting for which funding and research goals have been achieved and identifying key areas where intensified efforts are warranted.

IACC Chair and NIMH Director Dr. Thomas Insel said, “The state of the science has dramatically changed in the ASD field over the last 5 years. The 2013 Strategic Plan Update provides an accounting of that change, through investments and the evolution of research since the 2009 publication of the original Strategic Plan. This investment has translated to progress in all seven research areas outlined by the Plan,” which include risk factors, treatments and interventions, services, lifespan issues, and surveillance and infrastructure.

Since the release of the first IACC Strategic Plan in 2009, scientific advances have been made in the understanding of the key windows of fetal and infant development, when changes in gene expression, brain architecture and behavior can be linked to the later development of autism, along with potential environmental contributors to ASD risk such as parental age, maternal health conditions and prematurity. Advances have also been made in the development of new and improved screening tools, demonstration of the efficacy of various early intervention strategies, and increased information about critical services gaps, such as transition and housing, as well as data supporting effective services strategies. Research infrastructure has also greatly expanded in the past 5 years, with shared data repositories providing an unprecedented opportunity for collaboration and large-scale data analysis.

In most research areas, including those where funding fully met recommendations, the Committee suggested that additional investment would be needed to fully achieve the aspirational goals of making appropriate diagnosis, intervention and services available to all individuals with ASD, including people of all ages, cultural groups and levels of ability.

The 2013 Update identified several overarching themes that have emerged and that the Committee felt were critical for accelerating the progress of ASD research in the next 5 years. These include:

Scaling up screening tools, interventions, and services approaches for transition from lab to community settings.
Promoting inclusion of research subjects from the full range of ASD disability, from all periods of the lifespan, and from underserved populations.
Translating “practice to research,” by encouraging study of current real-world practices to inform research studies.
Characterizing the heterogeneity of ASD, including genotypes, subtypes, and co-morbid health conditions, in order to develop a personalized medicine approach.
Leveraging existing infrastructure to increase research speed and efficiency.
Applying strategies from other fields to ASD research.
Standardizing the ways in which outcomes are measured in clinical trials and services research to determine the effectiveness of interventions and services.
In the 2013 Strategic Plan Update, the IACC provides the most detailed accounting to date, using both quantitative and qualitative data. This included review of detailed portfolio analysis data and the literature, as well as consultation with over 25 external experts and review of comments received from the public, to assess progress across all objectives and aspirational goals described in the Strategic Plan since its initial conception.

Overall, the Committee hopes that this latest IACC Strategic Plan Update will provide Congress, federal agencies, advocates, and people with autism and their families with helpful information about important research progress that has been made to date, as well as areas that need further attention, in order to support a robust research effort that will lead to enhanced interventions, services and opportunities for people with autism across cultures, across the full spectrum of ability, and across the lifespan.


By Matt Carey

note: I serve as a public member to the IACC but my comments here and elsewhere are my own

The largest autism science conference, IMFAR, starts this week

12 May

IMFAR, the International Meeting For Autism Research, is being held this week in Atlanta, Georgia. The schedule for the meeting is up, as is the list of talks (program). Abstracts are embargoed until Wednesday at 10am EST.

Here is a list of general topics for the conference:

Adult Outcome: Medical, Cognitive, Behavioral
Animal Models
Brain Function (fMRI, fcMRI, MRS, EEG, ERP, MEG)
Brain Structure (MRI, neuropathology)
Cognition: Attention, Learning, Memory
Communication and Language
Early Development (< 48 months)
Epidemiology
Genetics
Intellectual and Behavioral Assessment and Measurement
Invited, Keynote Speakers, Awards
Medical and Psychiatric Co-morbidity
Molecular and Cellular Biology
Other
Repetitive Behaviors and Interests
Services
Social Cognition and Social Behavior
Special Interest Groups (SIGs)
Specific Interventions – Non-pharmacologic
Specific Interventions – Pharmacologic
Technology Demonstration

I, for one, am very glad to see a focus on adults (<a href=”https://imfar.confex.com/imfar/2014/webprogram/Session3075.html“>three sessions) and on services (three sessions).

There is a session on Autism in Africa. There is very little information on this area.

There is a dearth of autism research on the African continent; this scientific panel session aims to highlight recent research progress addressing this gap. The panel includes scientific presentations from two sub-Saharan African countries, using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methodologies and reporting on both urban and rural African populations. Altogether, the findings from these studies highlight the major barriers to appropriate support for families of children with autism in Africa (including the severe shortage of diagnostic and educational services, lack of awareness about autism and its causes, and high levels of stigma), and report on a promising scalable model that can help tackle these problems by training frontline community-based health extension workers. The challenges and opportunities discussed in these presentations apply not just to the countries under study, but have relevance for the entire African continent and low/middle income countries elsewhere. During the panel discussion these common themes will be reviewed and priority areas for future research and opportunities for intervention will be highlighted, in order to facilitate future autism research, advocacy and capacity building efforts.

I was able to attend IMFAR in San Diego a few years ago with the aid of an Autism Science Foundation grant. It was a great experience and I wish I could attend this year. There is nothing like it for concentrated autism science.


By Matt Carey

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