Cindy Lawler, Ph.D. (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/dert/cospb/staff/lawler/index.cfm)
Acting Branch Chief
Tel (919) 316-4671
Fax (919) 541-0462
NIEHS supports research aimed at understanding how environmental exposures early in life may combine with genetic susceptibility to alter brain development to create the core symptoms of autism. A wide variety of environmental exposures are being investigated--diet and nutrition, pesticides, metals, medications and medical procedures. The identification of environmental factors that increase a child’s risk for developing autism is essential because public health prevention efforts can then focus on reducing or removing exposure to those environmental factors. Many of the NIEHS research efforts address priorities identified in the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee’s Strategic Plan for Autism Research.
Three key projects funded by NIEHS, are:
- CHARGE – The goal of the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment study is to identify causes and contributing factors for childhood autism. Launched in 2003, this study is enrolling children diagnosed with autism and two comparison groups, children with developmental delay and children with typical development. Information on environmental exposures, medical, lifestyle, socio-demographic, and behavior are being collected from 1,800 children and their families.
- MARBLES – An extension of CHARGE begun in 2007, the Markers of Autism Risk in Babies-Learning Early Signs study is following 400 women at high risk of giving birth to a child with autism, starting from early pregnancy and following the children to age three. By collecting data from mothers and their babies throughout these critical periods, this study can better identify and measure environmental exposures that may impact the very early stages of brain development.
- EARLI – The Early Autism Risk Longitudinal Investigation study is a larger, collaborative, multi-center effort that is funded through the NIH Autism Centers of Excellence Program. EARLI is similar in design to MARBLES. In 2009, the study began enrolling mothers at increased risk for having another child with autism. Researchers plan to enroll and follow as many as 1,000 mothers during the new pregnancy and the baby through the age of three years.