Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the National Institute of
Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and James B. Snow,
M.D., Director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other
Communication Disorders (NIDCD) said that their Institutes will
lead the effort.
"This is the largest commitment to a single autism research
venture in history," Dr. Alexander said. "Autism is
a major pediatric health problem in the United States, with health
care costs exceeding $13 billion per year."
According to Dr. James B. Snow, "For
individuals with autism and their families, we have recent technological
advances that create unprecedented opportunities in research in
the neurobiology and genetics of autism."
Current research findings suggest that there is a strong genetic
basis for autism. Autism apparently originates during the early
stages of brain development and results in severe problems in
communication, social interaction, and in repetitive, sometimes
bizarre, actions and interests. The causes of this disorder are
uncertain, and there is no biological test to confirm its diagnosis.
This autism research network will combine scientists at 24 universities
with families in 13 states and in Canada, Britain, France, and
Germany to study the causes, including genetics, the underlying
biological mechanisms, and the developmental course of autism,
Dr. Alexander added. The effort is co-funded by NICHD and NIDCD,
with additional funds provided by the National Institutes of
Health Office of the Director and Office of Alternative Medicine.
The network came about as a result of a Congressionally mandated
conference on the State of the Science in Autism, which took place
in April, 1995, to identify gaps in the knowledge of autism and
directions for future research.
"This network will begin to make the research recommendations
from the NIH conference a reality," said Dr. Marie Bristol,
coordinator of the NIH conference and the Autism network. "The
collaborative project responds to a request from Congress for
more research on autism."
Dr. Bristol added that the network will bring together premier
researchers in autism and outstanding scientists who have never
before worked in autism research to find out how the disorder