In honor of World Autism Awareness Day, the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) has released its Summary of Advances for 2010. Twenty articles that were published in 2010 were selected across each of the five areas of focus on the IACC strategic plan. Autism Speaks’ Chief Science Officer, Geri Dawson, Ph.D., is a member of the committee and was pleased to see advances across the range of autism research and said, “It is encouraging to see the diversity of scientific advances that were made in 2010.“ Dawson noted, “studies that were deemed especially noteworthy included environmental research, genetic discoveries, new early intervention approaches, and assessment of medical conditions such as GI problems and mitochondrial dysfunction.”
Autism Speaks’ supported research featured prominently in the list, with seven of the 20 papers identified as top advances receiving Autism Speaks support. These included advances in the diagnosis of autism with Dr. Sally Ozonoff’s prospective study of the earliest signs of autism. The committee recommended two reports that advance our understanding of the biology of ASD – the consensus statements on GI disorders and a report on mitochondrial function suggesting that it may be more common that previously suspected. Two papers advancing our understanding of risk factors of ASDs included a study of blood mercury concentrations in children and also the Autism Genome project’s phase II results. Finally, two papers reporting on treatment advances in ASD were included. A study by Dr. Dawson involving a randomized controlled trial of an early intervention method was highlighted, as was an intervention delivered by caregivers that focused on developing better joint attention skills.
The list of advances comes at a time of celebration and reminds us of how much has happened in 2010, yet we are well aware of how far we need to go. Dawson remarked, ”While it is encouraging to see the advances made in 2010, it is important that we continue to advocate for increased federal funding for autism research. This is a step in the right direction but important issues remain to be addressed regarding the causes of autism and, more importantly, more effective ways of treating autism throughout the lifespan.”