International Meeting for Autism Research (London, May 15-17, 2008): Trends in U.S. Autism Research

Trends in U.S. Autism Research

Saturday, May 17, 2008
Champagne Terrace/Bordeaux (Novotel London West)
9:30 AM
J. Singh , Center for Integration of Research on Genetics and Ethics, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA
J. Illes , Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, Stanford University
L. Lazzeroni , Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University
J. Hallmayer , Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University
Background: During the last two decades autism has moved from relative obscurity to the center of media attention and public awareness. No other childhood disorder has seen such an increase in fund raising activities and lobbying for federal dollars. The National Institutes of Health, and two advocacy groups, the National Alliance for Autism Research and Cure Autism Now (now Autism Speaks) support the majority of autism research.

Objectives: To examine trends in autism research funded in the U.S. between the years of 1997 and 2006.

Methods: Funding data for autism research were collected from three sources: the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), Cure Autism Now (CAN) and the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR). We examined changes over time in the numbers and proportions of projects of specific themes (i.e., “brain and behavior”, “genetics”, “environment”, “treatment”, “epidemiology”, “diagnosis”, and “family and services” and types of research (i.e., "Basic"; "Clinical"; or "Translational") using standard Poisson and logistic regression.

Results: The number of autism research grants funded in the U.S. from 1997 – 2006 significantly increased 15% per year (p<0.001). Although the majority of projects were concentrated in basic research (65%) compared to clinical research (15%) and translational research (20%), we observed a significant decrease in the proportion of basic research grants per year and a significant increase in the proportion of translational projects per year (p<0.05). The number of translational projects funded by NAAR and CAN increased significantly, whereas the number of clinical projects significantly increased for the NIH (p<0.001). The focus of newly funded projects within basic sciences is dominated by brain and behavior, and genetics research, regardless of whether the funding is provided through federal agencies or parent advocacy groups.

Conclusions: This study demonstrates the shifting landscape of autism research from basic science to clinical and translational research.