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HHS Announces Appointment of New Public Members to the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee

2 Jul

The U.S. Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) will have two new members when it meets next week. The press release is below. The new members are Wendy Chung from Simons Foundation and Robert Ring from Autism Speaks. The Simons Foundation is the largest non-governmental funder of autism research and previously had a member on the IACC (Dennis Choi). My understanding is that Mr. Choi took a position working with a foreign government and that conflict required him to resign the IACC. Geri Dawson is still on the IACC and started this session working for Autism Speaks. Ms. Dawson has since left Autism Speaks.

For Immediate Release
July 2, 2014

HHS Announces Appointment of New Public Members to the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee

The Department of Health and Human Services today announced the appointments of Wendy Chung, M.D., Ph.D., and Robert Ring, Ph.D., as public members of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), a federal advisory Committee composed of federal agency officials and appointed community stakeholders that provides coordination and a forum for public input on issues related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Prior to her departure, former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius appointed Dr. Chung, Director of Clinical Research for the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI), and Dr. Ring, Chief Science Officer of Autism Speaks, to join the IACC in order to provide additional perspectives and expertise to the Committee. Dr. Chung and Dr. Ring serve as leaders within the two organizations that are the largest private funders of autism research in the United States. Both organizations were previously represented on the Committee by individuals who were appointed in 2012, but who have since left or changed affiliation.

Dr. Insel, Chair of the IACC and Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, welcomed the expertise and dedication that Dr. Chung and Dr. Ring bring to the IACC. “Both Dr. Ring and Dr. Chung will be important additions to the Committee, given the depth of their scientific and clinical experience, and their dedication to improving the lives of people on the autism spectrum,” he said.

Dr. Chung, in addition to directing clinical research at SFARI, served as a member of SFARI’s scientific advisory board. Dr. Chung is also the Herbert Irving Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine and Director of Clinical Genetics at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, where she is the principal investigator for the Simons Variation in Individuals Project (Simons VIP), funded by the Simons Foundation.

Dr. Ring, who has been the Chief Science Officer of Autism Speaks since 2013, also serves as the Chairman of the Board of Delivering Scientific Innovation for Autism (DELSIA), the venture philanthropy arm of Autism Speaks, and leads Autism Speaks’ collaboration with the Simons Foundation to launch the Autism BrainNet, a privately-funded multisite brain banking effort focused on supporting autism research. Dr. Ring previously served as Autism Speaks’ Vice President of Translational Research. He holds adjunct faculty appointments in the Departments of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Pharmacology and Physiology at Drexel University College of Medicine. Prior to his work at Autism Speaks, Dr. Ring served as Senior Director and Head of the Autism Research Unit at Pfizer Worldwide Research and Development and worked in the area of psychiatric drug discovery at Wyeth Research.

These two new members of the Committee will serve for the remaining months of IACC activity under the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2011, which will expire on September 30, 2014. If reauthorized, the IACC will be open for nominations of new potential public members in late 2014.

By Matt Carey

SFARI looks back at 2012 autism research

29 Dec

SFARI, the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative, hosts one of the best autism research focused blogs there is. The Simons Foundation is the largest private funder of autism research.

SFARI has a list of 10 notable papers:
Notable papers of 2012

The list includes genetic, brain structure and treatment studies.

And a discussion of research events from 2012 I. Their director’s column:

Director’s column: 2012 in review

Which is a good discussion of highlighted results.

By Matt Carey

Simons Foundation announces RFA for Explorer Awards

17 Apr

The Simons Foundation is a large source of funding for autism research. They have posted a RFA (request for application) for their Explorer Awards RFA

This award program is designed to enhance our existing support of autism research by providing timely resources to enable focused experiments highly relevant to our mission. A deeper understanding of the mechanisms underlying autism spectrum disorders or potential therapeutic approaches will require investigation at multiple levels, including but not limited to studies focused on gene discovery, molecular mechanisms, circuits, anatomy, and cognition and behavior. We will consider proposals at all of these levels.

The maximum budget is $60,000, including indirect costs for one (1) year, non-renewable.

The full RFA is on the Simons website: Explorer Awards RFA

Workshop report: Regression in autism

17 Apr

Simons Foundation has an article on their recent workshop on regression in autism. Here are the first two paragraphs:

A number of studies suggest that a subset of children with autism make significant social and language gains in the first year of life, and then experience a dramatic loss of skills. As infants, these children babble and make eye contact. However, those abilities suddenly disappear. This loss of skills is known as regression.

Some research suggests that these children may be a unique subgroup within the autism spectrum, distinct from those who show more gradual declines. The question of whether there is an abrupt change in only some children with autism has become an important topic for parents, clinicians and researchers.

Simons Foundation is the largest non government source of autism research funding. They are a private foundation. Their website and blog are great resources for those who follow autism research.

It is very tempting to pull a number of quotes from their article, but instead I’d encourage readers to go to the Simons website and read the article, regression in autism.

Simons Foundation: Notable papers of 2011

5 Jan

The Simons Foundation has an article discussing their choices of Notable papers of 2011. Below are their choices and links to the Simons Foundation blog (SFARI) articles which discuss them. Also given are links to pubmed for the original research articles.

Study finds high rate of autism in South Korea

Family sequencing study boosts two-hit model of autism

Networks of genes altered in autism brains, study says

Studies find high rate of rare new mutations in autism

Protein networks link different forms of autism, study says

Experts critique statistics, conclusion of autism twin study

Large study finds ‘baby sibs’ at high risk of autism

Autism tests struggle to balance accuracy and speed

Tuberous sclerosis, fragile X may be molecular opposites

Neurons made from stem cells reveal cellular flaws in autism

IAN Network Launches Critical Survey on Autism & Wandering

6 Apr

I received the following message from the Autism Science Foundation. The message discusses the survey to collect data on wandering by autistics. To participate, you need to register at the IAN Project website.

Today, the Interactive Autism Network (IAN) with support from leading autism advocacy groups including the Autism Science Foundation, launched the first major survey to study the experience of wandering and elopement, or escaping, among individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The tendency of individuals with ASD to wander or “bolt” puts them at risk of trauma, injury or even death, yet information on this critical safety issue is lacking.

Since 2007, the IAN Project,, has connected thousands of individuals on the autism spectrum and their families with researchers nationwide to accelerate the pace of autism research through an innovative online initiative housed at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. With more than 36,000 participants today, the IAN Project has the largest pool of autism data in the world.

“Although similar behavior has been studied in Alzheimer’s disease and autism advocates identify elopement as a top priority, virtually no research has been conducted on this phenomenon in ASD,” said Dr. Paul Law, Director of the IAN Project at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. “The new survey will provide vital information to families, advocates and policy makers alike as they work to keep individuals with ASD safe.”

The survey will help researchers begin to answer important questions:

* How often do individuals with ASD attempt to elope? How often do they succeed? Under what circumstances?
* Which individuals with ASD are most at risk? At what age?
* What burden do efforts to thwart elopement behavior place on caregivers?
* What can be done to protect individuals with ASD and support their families?

To understand elopement and wandering behavior in ASD, researchers need information both from families of individuals who do and do not wander and elope. In order to determine who is at risk, all families in the U.S. autism community are encouraged to participate in the survey, whether or not their loved one engages in these behaviors. Survey participants must be enrolled in the IAN Project (to register, visit and be the parent or guardian of a child or dependent adult with ASD.

Due to the urgent need for this information by the autism community, preliminary data will be made available on April 20, 2011, provided the necessary sample size is reached for the research survey.

This survey is funded by the Autism Research Institute, Autism Science Foundation, Autism Speaks and Global Autism Collaboration. The IAN Project is also supported by the Simons Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Science based autism charities?

1 Jun

Science Based Medicine is a blog devoted to, well, discussing science based medicine. The subject of autism comes up fairly regularly, usually in the context of the vaccine/autism discussion. A recent SBM piece by Dr. David Gorski, Nine differences between “us and them,” nine straw men burning, caught my eye.

Dr. Gorski comments:

Alison Singer (@alisonsinger), President of the Autism Science Foundation, arguably the only truly science-based autism charity in existence at the moment,

I was about to write a comment when I decided that a blog post was more in order.

The Autism Science Foundation is a science-based autism charity. But, is it really arguable that there are no other truly science-based autism charities?

The answer (as you can likely guess) is “no”. Two names come to mind readily, but I don’t suggest this is an exhaustive list.

[Correction–it has been pointed out to me that both the foundations below do not accept public donations. Thus, they are not “charities”. That would leave the Autism Science Foundation as the one major science based charity]

Who is the largest autism charity? A lot depends on how you define size, but let’s just consider money. Who has the most and who spends the most? If you are thinking Autism Speaks, you are incorrect. The answer is the Simons Foundation.

The Simons Foundation has two main focuses, Math&Science and Autism. They run one of the better blogs on autism science. One of the recent members added to the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee is from Simons. Most of the autism charities you might know of are working on the basis of taking money in and turning around and spending that money. That is part of the reason why you know about them, they have to keep their name in the public’s eye to get donations. Simons works from an endowment, a foundation. A big one. As of 2008, Simons had assets worth over US$1 billion ($1.108B if you want details). From this endowment, they fund research. After the U.S. Government, they are likely the largest source of autism research funding in the world.

If you check the Simons Foundation website and blog, you will see a decidedly science oriented organization.

The Nancy Laurie Marks Foundation also supports a number of science projects, as well as some advocacy efforts. The Nancy Laurie Marks Foundation was working from an endowment of nearly $US90 million in 2008.

I will highlight two paragraphs from the Marks Foundation “about” page:

The principal goal of the scientific program is to achieve a deeper understanding of the biological basis of autism, focusing on genetics, synaptic chemistry, the neurobiology of communication, systems biology and the physiology of movement. The Foundation funds peer-reviewed research, the development of collaborative investigator projects, and research fellowship programs. Through sponsorship of scientific conferences, symposia and workshops, the Foundation seeks to encourage innovation and provide a springboard to generate new avenues of shared inquiry.


The NLM Family Foundation actively seeks partnerships with other grantmakers sharing its goals and fosters collaborations between investigators and organizations that have a direct interest in developmental disabilities. Of particular interest are projects which challenge stereotypes that stand in the way of people with autism realizing their potential, such as the misconception that people with autism are invariably mentally retarded and have minimal interest in social interaction. Challenging such stereotypes will lead to a greater public understanding of autism and widen the scope of scientific inquiry.

The Nancy Laurie Marks Foundation recently donated US$29 million to Massachusetts General Hospital to start a program focusing on the needs of autistic adults.

I am regularly taken to task on this blog for focusing too much attention on issues which are ever increasingly less relevant to the autism communities. I think Dr. Gorski’s comment is not a failure on his part, but, rather, on mine. While I have discussed both the Simons and Marks foundations, it is well worth the time to discuss them again. Any real change privately funded research may bring to the lives of autistics will come from groups such as these.