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NIH Awards Nearly $100M Over Five Years for Autism Research

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The National Institutes of Health announced today that it has awarded nine research grants totaling nearly $100 million over the next five years under the auspices of the Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) program.

ACE, which was created in 2007, supports large research projects aimed at understanding and developing interventions for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the agency said. Grants are awarded every five years.

"Autism spectrum disorder has myriad environmental, genetic, neurological and behavioral components," Diana Bianchi, director of the NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said in a statement. "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."

The awards support research at individual centers and at research networks, the NIH added.

Among the center grants awarded this year was funding for the University of California, Davis, which will continue efforts to classify children with ASD into different subgroups, based on their symptoms, behavioral characteristics, and genetic features. The researchers will also attempt to develop behavioral and drug interventions appropriate for each subtype.

Researchers at Emory University, meanwhile, are planning to conduct studies on diagnosing autism early and developing the earliest possible interventions. Emory's $11.6 million grant will be split among five projects, the university said. One such project builds on recent research showing that the ways in which infants visually explore, engage with, learn from, and adapt to their surrounding world is tightly connected to genetic variation, and another will help with assessments of how genetic variations alter social development and evaluation of potential therapeutic treatments.

The other ACE grantees are the University of California, Los Angeles, which plans to look at the nature of different ASD subtypes; Yale University, which will investigate brain connections in fetuses and newborns to identify early indicators of ASD; and Duke University, which aims to learn how ADHD may influence the diagnosis and treatment of autism.

The NIH has also awarded network grants to George Washington University, which is investigating how ASD differs between boys and girls; the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, which is tracking brain development and behavior in children as ASD progresses; Drexel University, which is evaluating the efficacy and utility of autism screening for all toddlers; and the University of Florida, Gainesville, which is testing a parent coaching and home intervention solution for families of children with ASD.