Among the details that have begun to emerge on how federal stimulus-package
money will be spent on disease research is a planned new focus on autism
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced in March that at least
$60 million of the $10.4 billion allocated to it by the American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act (ARRA, PL111-5) federal stimulus law will be devoted to
support autism research. The NIH set-aside for autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
research is the largest investment yet by the federal government in research
on the disorder, according to NIH.
The funding "represents a surge in NIH's commitment to finding the
causes and treatments for autism," NIH said in a written statement. The
autism research grants will be awarded through the National Institute of
Mental Health (NIMH).
The autism grants will be used for research over the next two years that
includes developing and testing diagnostic screening tools, assessing risks
from prenatal or early-life exposures, and performing clinical trials to test
potential early interventions.
Although few clinical trials are likely to be completed within the two
years for which ARRA funds are available, NIH officials said the funding will
help by "jump-starting projects" and building the infrastructure
for longer-term autism research efforts.
The autism research reflects the short-term objectives described in the
Inter-agency Autism Coordinating Committee's (IACC's) Strategic Plan for
Autism Spectrum Disorder Research, which was issued in March. The IACC
consists of federal health officials, outside autism experts, and advocates
who recommend ways to coordinate the federal government's autism efforts.
"As reflected in the IACC strategic plan, we have a growing sense of
urgency to help the increasing number of children being diagnosed with
ASD," said psychiatrist Thomas Insel, M.D., director of NIMH, in a press
release. "With the arrival of new funds, we can immediately start on
many of the short-term objectives in the plan and use ARRA funds to support
science that will facilitate the best possible outcomes for people with ASD
and their families."
NIMH, which is a division of NIH, plans to allocate all of the stimulus
funds appropriated for autism research by September 30, 2010.
Other recent developments related to the stimulus law's research-funding
boost included NIH's announcement in March that it had begun to accept
applications for $1.5 billion in economic-stimulus funds for studies,
improvement, and construction of research facilities and for purchasing
More than $200 million in grants will be focused on studies "that
address specific scientific and health research challenges in biomedical and
behavioral research that would benefit from significant two-year jumpstart
funds," according to NIH. Comparative-effectiveness research will also
be a target area for the research funds.
The highest-priority research areas in mental health identified by NIH
include identifying biomarkers in patients with mental disorders that predict
the course of disease and patients' responsiveness to treatments. Other
priority initiatives on which NIH plans to spend the stimulus money are"
person-centered" data analysis for alcohol treatment research,
behavioral and medical treatments for drug addiction in nonspecialty settings,
and the cost-effectiveness of available psychiatric illness treatments.
Information on NIH's highest priorities for the new grant money is