New “Pivot Grants” Available for Autism Researchers & Scientists Facing COVID-19 Hardship

NEW YORK — April 13, 2020 — The Autism Science Foundation (ASF) invites applications for its new COVID-19 Pivot Grant Program. This funding is intended to help scientists manage challenges they are facing in conducting research projects due to the COVID-19 emergency. 

The funding is meant to help cover new costs encountered due to adaptations or modifications of an original research plan as a result of the current shutdown across research institutions. Grants of up to $3,000 are available for a six-month term to help researchers conform to current restrictions due to the COVID-19 emergency.

“The research world has changed drastically and dramatically, practically overnight, but the needs of autism families have not,” said ASF president Alison Singer. “We must be nimble and flexible in supporting the research community so that we can continue discovering the causes of autism and developing new treatments. This new grant mechanism is just one of ASF’s many new efforts to respond quickly to the changing needs of the autism community.”

ASF intends this to be a fast-turnaround mechanism and expects to support multiple calls for awards this year. During this first round, awards will be limited to those with established university or research institution affiliation. Priority will be given to pilot or feasibility grants that were in process as well as to investigators who are in earlier stages of their careers (pre-doctoral training to seven years after post-doc completion).

“We encourage researchers to think outside the box on how to meet the challenges we currently face,” said ASF Chief Science Officer Dr. Alycia Halladay. “We have thought of some potential uses but there are certainly research situations we haven’t even contemplated that warrant support.”

Some potential uses of funds include: honoraria associated with participant retention; costs of new biological agents or preparations proposed to either pivot or readjust the research plan; direct storage costs of biological agents to preserve previously acquired samples; costs of technological platforms or technological tools to collect data from families remotely; and costs associated with making materials available to families or to other researchers.

For more information on how to apply, click here.

About the Autism Science Foundation
The Autism Science Foundation (ASF) is a 501(c) (3) public charity. Its mission is to support autism research by providing funding to scientists and organizations conducting autism research. ASF also provides information about autism to the general public and serves to increase awareness of autism spectrum disorders and the needs of individuals and families affected by autism. To learn more about the Autism Science Foundation or to make a donation visit www.autismsciencefoundation.org.   

Media Contact
Sam Belden
Forefront Communications for Autism Science Foundation
212-320-8986
sbelden@forefrontcomms.com

Funding Will Support the Work of Autism Researchers at the Start of Their Careers

NEW YORK, NY (April 8, 2020) – The Autism Science Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to catalyzing innovative autism research, today announced the recipients of its annual undergraduate summer research fellowships.  Four grants have been awarded to promising undergraduates who will investigate the relationship between autism and ADHD in young children, search for biomarkers of anxiety in adults with autism, search for new early signs of autism in infants, and examine access to medical care barriers in adults with profound autism. These projects allow undergraduate researchers to contribute to scientifically important projects while gaining skills that will allow them to flourish as future autism researchers.

“This is truly one of our most important funding mechanisms and is at the heart of our mission to fund promising, young scientists and help them launch a career in autism research” said Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation. “This group of grantees is doing important and innovative science that will expand our knowledge of the early signs of autism and co-occurring disorders like anxiety and ADHD,  and will help develop targeted new treatments that will improve the lives of people with autism.”

“We have worked closely with all of our undergraduate grantees to modify their projects so that they can be done using telehealth approaches if universities remain closed over the summer” said ASF Chief Science Officer Dr. Alycia Halladay. “All of these projects will yield valuable information for families.”

In 2018, Inside Philanthropy praised ASF’s focus on young scientists, writing that funding undergraduates “is not something we see very often. In fact, we almost never see it. A key to achieving (medical) breakthroughs is first to win the battle to engage and retain young investigators. That means getting to promising researchers early. ASF says it’s alone among funders in its view that support for undergrads is a worthwhile use of research dollars. As far as we know, that’s true.” 

https://www.insidephilanthropy.com/home/2018/4/12/autism-research-foundation-undergraduate-research-funds

The following undergraduates have received summer fellowships:

Fellow:  Alana Eiland
Mentor:  James McPartland, PhD
Institution:  Yale University
Title:  Isolating and Understanding Biomarkers of Anxiety in Adults with ASD
Children, teens and adults with autism often are also diagnosed with anxiety. In this study, Ms. Eiland will look at brain activity in adults with ASD, anxiety, and in those with both diagnoses, to try to find biological signatures for each condition. The results of this research could better inform treatment options for anxiety in autistic adults.

Fellow:  Nat Finnegan
Mentor:  Meghan Miller, PhD
Institution:  University of California at Davis
Title:   Tracking the Development of ADHD in Toddlers Diagnosed with ASD

Children with ASD often also receive an ADHD diagnoses as they grow up. Focused on infants 1-3 years old, this study will try to determine when ADHD symptoms start to arise, and what those symptoms look like in children with ASD, in an effort to enable earlier diagnoses of comorbid ADHD in children with ASD.

Fellow:  Joshua Glauser
Mentors:  Charles Nelson, PhD and Carol Wilkinson, MD, PhD
Institution:  Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard University
Title:  Examining a new biological early marker for ASD in infants

While autism is typically not diagnosed until 24 months, biological features can often be noticed much earlier. For example, it has been suggested that as early as 3 months, infants who go on to be diagnosed with autism might look at their mother less often. This project will examine how early brain responses to seeing their mother vs. a stranger are related to the development of social behavior and gestures in kids who go on to be diagnosed with autism. This would support the earliest possible diagnosis of autism, as well development of language and social abilities.

Fellow:  Kyra Rosen
Mentor:  Shafali Jeste, MD
Institution:  University of California at Los Angeles
Title:  Breaking Barriers to Medical Care for Adults with Profound, Syndromic Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders

The goal of this research will be to identify and classify the major hurdles to positive lifestyle outcomes in adults with the most severe forms of autism and neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs). Utilizing an existing database, Ms. Rosen will evaluate reports of medical comorbidities and conditions in adults, will examine service utilization and access to care, and will interview caregivers via zoom to better understand barriers to care. These data will help improve access to care for individuals with profound autism.

About the Autism Science Foundation:
The Autism Science Foundation (ASF) is a 501(c)(3) public charity. Its mission is to support autism research by providing funding to scientists and organizations conducting autism research. ASF also provides information about autism to the general public and serves to increase awareness of autism spectrum disorders and the needs of individuals and families affected by autism. To learn more about the Autism Science Foundation or to make a donation, visit www.autismsciencefoundation.org. 

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You may have heard the news: The prevalence of autism is 1:40 according to an email survey of parents. However, there’s more information in the study that’s worthy of consideration: The high rate of unmet mental health needs in those with ASD. Learn more on the ASF podcast. Read more about the study.

While diagnosis before 3 years of age is ideal, circumstances may not always allow the earliest identification and diagnosis. This week’s podcast explores two of the reasons why diagnosis is not always possible before age 3. One is a study from Denmark and one is from members of the Baby Siblings Research Consortium.

A new study from the ASF-supported Baby Siblings Research Consortium explains why a few kids with autism do not receive a formal diagnosis until 5 years or later. Read more here.

In Scientific American, ASF CSO Dr. Alycia Halladay discusses how autism research gets covered and suggests way to improve the reporting to make sure the news that goes around is legitimate and significant. Read the op-ed here.

Dr. Inna Fishman from San Diego State University explains how findings from brain tissue helps scientists interpret data which studies how brain regions connect to each other and why this is important for understanding autism subgroups. Also, researchers from the Karolinska Institutet examine ADHD diagnosed in adults, and find it is similar to autism. Listen to the podcast here.

This week, Dr. Mark Shen from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill explains new findings looking at the fluid around the brain. It’s now seen in families even without a family history of ASD, the finding has now been seen in different independent studies, including those at the UC Davis MIND Institute in California, it might be a diagnostic biomarker of ASD, and it also might help explain sleep problems. Hear more on this week’s podcast.

Today, ASF announced that it will be leading the newly-launched Alliance for Genetic Etiologies of Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Autism (AGENDA). This alliance is a partnership of research and advocacy organizations focused on improving outcomes of individuals with all forms of autism by fostering a genetics-first approach to autism science. AGENDA will also work to strengthen collaborations among organizations representing genetically-defined disorders associated with autism. As part of its collaborative activities, today AGENDA launched a new online portal that will make it easier for researchers to investigate different forms of autism. Clinicians, basic scientists, industry, and multiple end users of this information were consulted on the development of the portal, which along with contact information to access the data in each registry, can be found here.

Recently, Clare Harrop from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published two papers which help explain the differences between boys and girls with autism, at least in kids and toddlers. She graciously agreed to talk with ASF about these findings and what it means for better identification and diagnosis of girls with ASD, and where future research is needed, for this week’s podcast. Thank you to Dr. Harrop for this insight and for your work in this area!

This week’s ASF podcast focuses on how co-occuring conditions with autism, like anxiety, depression, and OCD, have changed over time. The increase in these conditions may help in defining different subgroups of autism. Listen on asfpodcast.org or on your favorite podcatcher!

This week’s podcast begins with a comment on the debate over ABA – helpful or harmful? But the big news this week is an analysis of very early, but very published, data on the use of MDMA, also known as “ecstasy” or “Molly”, in people with autism. Called an “empathogen”, MDMA can elicit feelings of warmth, love, and need to cuddle. However, it has a dark side. MDMA is a neurotoxin. It kills serotonergic brain cells. There is no known safe dose. Researchers studied and found weak evidence that it reduces social anxiety in people with autism. Social anxiety isn’t a core symptom of autism. Thank you to Dr. Larry Scahill of Emory University who provided an expert description of each condition. While ASF will not comment on every negative study out there, this one is worth noting.

When someone offers you MDMA, JUST SAY NO.