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IACC releases 2009 Portfolio of grants

June 17, 2011 1 comment

The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) recently released their annual report on the portfolio of autism research funding for 2009. The report reveals that over $314 million dollars was spent on autism research from both federal and private sources. This report comes at a crucial time when the Combating Autism Act of 2006 (CAA) is under consideration for renewal. The CAA instigated the formation of the IACC which helps guide the appropriate use of federal funds for autism research.

So what was funded in 2009? The IACC breaks down funding into seven categories that stem from the key questions in the IACC’s strategic plan. The questions are listed in the figure below. In 2009, almost one-third of the funding (32% of total) went toward identifying risk factors for autism spectrum disorders (ASD).This category also received the greatest funding in 2008. The second and third most funded categories were investigations of the underlying biology of ASD (20%) and the development of treatments or interventions (20%). The categories receiving the least funding were services research (3%) and studies on autism during adulthood (<1%). The IACC noted these categories as special targeted areas for increasing funded projects in future years.

2009 included significant funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that Congress authorized earlier in the year. The National Institutes of Health used Recovery Act money to fund autism research with $64 million dollars that supported 141 new projects, which accounted for 33% of NIH’s autism research in 2009. The ARRA grants were targeted to address the IACC’s strategic plan questions and an analysis of those grants separately looks similar to the overall portfolio of grants. The greatest percentage of funding was allocated for studies of risk and underlying biology and least for services studies and understanding adult outcomes. The ARRA infusion of federal funds significantly increased the dollar amount of federal funding for autism research over 2008.

Overall, funding for autism projects increased by 21% from 2008 to 2009, much of this due to the ARRA funding.

The analysis also included a breakdown of funding by federal and private organizations. By far NIH supported the greatest number of projects (516) and granted the most money ($197 million) overall. The second and third biggest supporters of autism research were private organizations. The Simons Foundation granted $51 million over 98 research projects in 2009. Autism Speaks supported 220 projects with $23 million dollars raised from generous donations of families and loved ones who want to see better lives for all who struggle with ASD.

These numbers show the impact that foundations such as Autism Speaks can have on the direction of autism research as they typically support ideas deemed too “risky” for NIH funding. Indeed, a recent analysis conducted on Autism Speaks’ grants showed that for each dollar invested in research, investigators leveraged $10 more in additional funding. Researchers were able to use our early investment to further their studies and advance our collective understanding of autism.

Autism Speaks’ Chief Science Officer, Geri Dawson, Ph.D., says “Although we are pleased that funding increased for ASD research, we are still in great need of increased funding so we can make faster progress. Notably, the current IACC report shows that more funding needs to be directed toward research on adults and services. Basic scientific discoveries need to be translated into real world solutions that impact the daily lives of people struggling with autism.”

The timing of this report is critical. As previously mentioned, the CAA is now up for renewal. Without this support we would not have the IACC , which brings together stakeholders from the federal government, private research organizations, and community leaders to consider the needs of the community as a whole so we can best invest research dollars to solve pressing questions that actually impact the lives of real people.

Last month, new reauthorization bills were introduced with strong bi-partisan backing in the Senate by Senators Robert Menendez (NJ-D) and Mike Enzi (WY-R), and in the House by Autism Caucus Co-chairs Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-R) and Rep. Mike Doyle (PA-D). President Obama has pledged to sign a CAA reauthorization into law this year. The Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2011 (CARA) would extend the CAA – which includes funding for critical research, services and treatment, and contains measures to ensure cost-efficient planning and coordination of these efforts – for three years at current funding levels.

As Autism Speaks co-Founder Bob Wright stated last month upon the introduction of CARA, “Bi-partisan support for any legislation today is rare, and reflects our elected leaders’ understanding of the severity of the challenges we face. It is imperative that CAA is reauthorized, so that the vital work in research, treatment and services can continue.”

The numbers in this report are just one way to quantify the investments that are being made in our understanding of autism spectrum disorders, from risk factors to the effective delivery of services. We will continue to keep watch and advocate for more research that is aimed at improving lives today and transforming lives tomorrow.

The entire report is available for download here.

CAA Success Stories: A ‘Godsend’ for Families in Arkansas

June 15, 2011 4 comments

Dianna Varady is currently the Statewide Chapter Advocacy Chair for Autism Speaks in Arkansas, advocating for autism research and services at the federal level, as well as leading the grassroots effort that resulted in Arkansas becoming the 24th state to enact autism insurance reform in 2011.  Dianna has a son with autism.

What a difference six years makes.  In July of 2005, my husband and I were in a meeting with our son’s treatment team when we were told very bluntly, “We think you’re dealing with an autism spectrum disorder here.”  Difficult to hear, but exactly what I needed to pull my head out of the sand and get to work.  I wanted answers….how did this happen and what do we do now???

It took us about three days to discover that we had a world-renowned autism researcher right here in Arkansas.  Dr. Jill James at the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute was studying folate metabolism in children with Down syndrome when she accidently stumbled upon a significantly abnormal metabolic profile in one of her control subjects – a sibling of one of her study subjects who was diagnosed with autism.  Pretty soon she had identified several more children with autism who had the same bizarre profile.

We contacted Dr. James right around the time her study was being published.  At the time, she was presenting her findings to physicians and researchers around the United States and to her colleagues here at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.  Pretty soon we had dozens of physicians and researchers interested in autism.  Here in Arkansas, doctors from many of the specialty clinics were interested in conducting their own research.  We had an abundance of talented and passionate professionals just waiting for an opportunity to put all of their new-found energy and enthusiasm around autism to good use.  Then, in 2006, along came the Combating Autism Act (CAA.)

Thanks to the CAA, Arkansas now has an Autism Treatment Network (ATN) Clinic, where our developmental pediatric teams are identifying children with autism using state-of-the-art evaluation tools and contributing to a nationwide data registry.  The same ATN team also recently held its second annual “Team Up” autism conference for parents, educators, and clinicians to learn from some of the most respected professionals in the field of autism.  We have a Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) program at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), also funded through the CAA, that provides graduate students in a number of different disciplines the opportunity to work together on a multidisciplinary team.  And, probably most exciting of all, the CAA has funded research here in Arkansas.  An autism prevalence study is underway, and we have studies funded by CAA that are looking at diet, nutrition, physical health and quality of life.

One of the fringe benefits of the programs and studies provided through CAA funding is the way all this activity around autism has brought together a team of specialists at Children’s Hospital to develop an autism clinic with a geneticist, a gastroenterologist, and a neurologist.  These three doctors collaborate with one another to provide top-notch care for their patients, and to improve the overall experience for families in their clinic.  For our family this has been a godsend.  Many of the answers we were seeking in 2005 have been found thanks to these dedicated and compassionate doctors.

Naturally, being an Arkansas native, I’m proud as a peacock of all this activity right here in my back yard.  But the CAA is scheduled to expire September 30, jeopardizing continued federal funding for many of these activites. That’s why it’s CRUCIAL for Congress to move quickly and approve the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA.)   If not, all of this research and these advancements in the field of autism could disappear.  And so could our hope for a cure.

Dianna Varady (left), with Arkansas Rep. Uvalde Lindsey and Autism Speaks Senior Policy Advisor & Counsel Lorri Unumb following passage of Arkansas insurance reform bill

This legislation must be passed by Congress and signed by President Obama by September 30th, 2011. If you would like to get involved to make sure that happens, please visit www.autismvotes.org/action-cara. Autism Votes makes it easy to participate. Autism Speaks – It’s time for Congress to listen.

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