Government News
Autism Research to Get Big Slice of Stimulus Pie
Psychiatric News
Volume 44 Number 8 page 8-8

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 studies.

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 scientific equipment.

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 posted at<http://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/challenge_award>.

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