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Autism Panel Releases Strategic Plan

By Eddy Ball
April 2009

Photo of Cindy Lawler, Ph.D.
Lawler, above, was the initial NIEHS representative on the IACC. She has since been succeeded by NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

On March 5, the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) released its much-anticipated blueprint for research on autism. The federal advisory panel announced the completion of the IACC Strategic Plan for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Research ( Exit NIEHS in a news release on its U.S. Department of Health and Human services web site. ( Exit NIEHS

The plan is mandated by the panel's enabling legislation, the Combating Autism Act of 2006. It is the outcome of four scientific workshops to identify research opportunities, expert workgroups to recommend research objectives and solicitation of public input through Requests for Information and town hall meetings - such as a Sacramento Town Hall Meeting, held in May 2008 and organized by NIEHS Health Science Administrator Lawler, Ph.D., and the University of California, Davis Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders (MIND) Institute. (

The resulting IACC Strategic Plan reflects a diversity of views and the breadth of research that will be required to address the needs of people with ASD and their families. It is organized around six critically important questions regarding diagnosis, the biology of autism, risk factors, treatments and interventions, services and supports and questions about issues faced by adolescents, adults and seniors with autism and their families. Each question is followed by a brief discussion of what is currently known and what more is needed through research.

The plan includes recommendations for enhancing ASD research and treatment ranging from developing more sophisticated diagnostic tools to improvements in community-based services for children and adults with ASD. The experts offer funding recommendations and strategies for performing complete longitudinal and comprehensive studies of the biological, clinical and developmental profiles of children, identifying genetic and environmental risk factors, and conducting clinical trials of interventions.

Autism is a complex developmental disorder characterized by repetitive behavior and pervasive impairments in language and the ability to relate to others. With a dramatically increasing incidence, autism and related disorders - often grouped together as ASD - constitute a major health concern in the U.S., striking up to one in every 150 children and costing an estimated $35 to $90 billion annually, according to the IACC Strategic Plan.

The IACC will monitor the plan over the next year and incorporate its findings into an updated document for its next annual release in 2010. The IACC is composed of several different Department of Health and Human Services agencies including the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and U.S. Department of Education.

NIH Will Use Stimulus Funds to Support Strategic Autism Research

In a press release issued March 24, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reported that NIH will commit roughly $60 million of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds for a new Request for Applications on autism research to meet objectives set forth earlier by the IACC. Approximately $5 million of that commitment will be granted and administered by NIEHS.

Possible topics are included in the grant announcement listing in the NIH Guide. ( Exit NIEHS These topics correspond directly to short-term research objectives detailed in the IACC Strategic Plan for Autism Spectrum Disorder Research. ( Exit NIEHS

Researchers funded through these new autism grants will be expected to contribute to the National Database for Autism Research (NDAR). ( Exit NIEHS NDAR was established to serve the autism research community as a common platform for exchanging data, tools, and research-related information, as well as to serve as a portal to and for the broad autism research community.

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