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.

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7 Responses to “Environmental risk factor related research funded by the NIH in 2014”

  1. Science Mom July 18, 2014 at 17:10 #

    Part of the problem is that these groups don’t understand the complexities of genetic and epigenetic research and such avenues point away from their coveted “environment”, i.e. an external force that can be blamed. This cohort of parents don’t want to know that their genes whether inherited or de novo mutations could be responsible even though such self-blame is ridulous and pointless. Additionally, they ignore environmental research because to them, “environmental” is code for “vaccines”. A shame really as numerous, envrionmental studies are providing more viable information about autism aetiology.

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) July 18, 2014 at 17:40 #

      Often they don’t ignore environmental research, they mock it. If it isn’t vaccines, they are very hostile.

      They claim that genetics is a “blame the mother” cause, but the ignore the huge guilt they have instilled in a generation of parents with the vaccine hypothesis.

      • Science Mom July 18, 2014 at 19:08 #

        You’re right, ignore was the wrong word to use. Mock and/or denial is correct.

  2. Jennifer McAnally (@Jen_in_TX) July 18, 2014 at 17:23 #

    My money’s still on acetaminophen.

    • Chris July 18, 2014 at 17:50 #

      Prenatal or postnatal?

      • Jennifer McAnally (@Jen_in_TX) July 18, 2014 at 18:04 #

        Both.

        Pre-conception use may also be of interest, if sulfur depletion is playing a role, and a woman begins a pregnancy with a deficiency.

        Just my little pet hypothesis.

      • Chris July 18, 2014 at 18:06 #

        Okay, dokay. That is fair honest opinion.

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