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International Coalition to Fund Autism Genetics Research

December 28, 2004


An international public/private partnership of government health agencies and private advocacy organizations has committed more than $21 million for research to identify the genes associated with autism spectrum disorders, a range of developmental disorders that impair communication and other mental abilities. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is spearheading the coalition, whose members include the Canadian and Irish governments and three private autism foundations.

The coalition recently issued a Request for Applications (RFA), "Identifying Autism Susceptibility Genes," which has an application receipt date of April 15, 2005. Applications will undergo peer review during July 2005. The coalition will award funding for the research project in the fall of 2005 and expects to fund two to three organizations to participate in the 5-year project.

"NIMH appreciates the challenge of leading this impressive team," said Thomas R. Insel, M.D., director of the NIMH, the lead organization in the effort. "This remarkable partnership shows what can be accomplished when public/private efforts join forces. This international approach can advance the autism field by leaps and bounds."

With three to six new cases per 1,000 children, autism is more common than several other disabling but better-understood diseases of childhood, such as type 1 diabetes and cystic fibrosis. Symptoms of autism, a complex neuropsychiatric syndrome, include varying degrees of impairment in communication and social skills, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior. While heredity, in the form of multiple genes, appears to be a major determinant of whether a particular individual develops autism, experts believe that environmental influences also play a significant role.

Researchers have already reported progress on the genetic underpinnings of autism. There are reports of several chromosomal regions associated with the disorder, but few specific genes have been identified. The RFA is intended to advance knowledge of the relation between genetics and autism by examining existing data for genes and gene variants that confer susceptibility to autism. The RFA also requires researchers to assess the functional significance of autism-associated genetic variants. This research may provide a means to subdivide autism spectrum disorders into identifiable, distinct disorders, with different molecular mechanisms.

The organizations participating in the project are the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders (NIDCD), the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), all from the NIH; the Canadian Institutes of Health Research; the Health Research Board, Ireland; and the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center, Cure Autism Now, and the National Alliance for Autism Research, all private organizations.

Jennifer Loukissas
NIMH press office

Last Updated Date: 
December 28, 2004