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NIH Earmarks $28M to Fund Study into Measurements of Autism Markers

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) — The National Institutes of Health this week announced that it has earmarked $28 million over the next four years to fund the study and refinement of clinical measures of social impairment in autism spectrum disorder.

The effort, which is being led by Yale School of Medicine's James McPartland, is being supported under the Biomarkers Consortium, a research partnership of industry, government, and academic groups focused on identifying and validating biomarkers for a variety of diseases.

With the NIH's funding, McPartland and collaborators will conduct a study of preschool and school-aged children, both with and without autism spectrum disorder, at sites across the US. They will evaluate study participants using clinician, caregiver, and lab-based measures of social impairment, and investigate the sensitivity and reliability of these measures to indicate changes in a participant's core social impairment symptoms over time, according to NIH.

The team will then evaluate the potential of eye tracking responses and brain activity measurements as biomarkers of autism, comparing them to the measures of social function they studied, the agency added. The work is expected to improve the selection and monitoring of patients for future clinical trials of autism interventions.

In addition to behavioral measures and biomarker data, DNA samples from children with ASD and their parents will be collected for use in future genetic studies, NIH said.

"The heterogeneity in people with an [autism spectrum disorder] makes it imperative that we find more precisely diagnosed groups of research subjects so that we can objectively evaluate the clinical effects of an intervention," National Institute of Mental Health Director Thomas Insel said in a statement. "This consortium project will develop reliable tools and measures that clinical researchers can use to assess potential treatments."

The grant began on July 1 and runs until June 30, 2019.