Grant funds autism research

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Local families will receive some additional hope in dealing with autism, thanks to funding earmarked by Congress for research.  

Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Dayton Children’s Hospital and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB) will join forces in a unique collaboration to help unlock some of the mysteries of autism through $1.5 million in federal funding secured by Congress members David Hobson and Deborah Pryce.  

Funding for the research program was included in the fiscal year 2008 Department of Defense appropriations bill, which was signed into law by President Bush last month.

“This autism research project is another example of how seed money can be used to help further medical advancements in child-hood diseases and disorders,” Hobson said. “With this funding, we are bringing together three first-class institutes to help researchers learn more about the causes and treatment of autism, and are providing participating WPAFB families with the expanded therapies that they need.”

Pryce noted that the research derived from the study could yield tremendous breakthroughs in how medical professionals treat and diagnose the disorder.

The research involves the development of a comprehensive registry of central Ohio residents and families at the air force base dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorders, in order to provide higher quality data for genetic research and therapies and treatment services for participating families.

As an Exceptional Family Member Base, Wright-Patterson is one of the few military bases where an evaluation for autism and its long-term management can be performed.  

Under the program, service members are assigned to bases offering suitable medical, educational or other resources to treat family members with medical conditions requiring prolonged hospitalization or outpatient treatment.

The registry and gene mapping research will be conducted at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, while the autism therapies and treatments involving participating Wright-Patterson families will take place at Dayton Children’s Hospital.  

Dr. Gail Herman, director of the Center for Molecular and Human Genetics at the Research Institute, will be the lead researcher.

According to Herman, autism affects one in every 150 to 160 children. It is characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills, social interactions and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior.  Autism spectrum disorders include its most severe form, autistic developmental disorder.

“The planned research will play a part in the international research community’s efforts to understand the causes of autism, and we want Ohio families to be involved in this effort,” Herman explained.

Herman said the registry for this new research program began about 18 months ago.  The registry will provide opportunities for families to participate in local and national research studies examining the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of autism spectrum disorders.  

As part of this study they will collect and store medical information and blood samples on individuals with the disorders and their family members.

She shared that parents try to blame themselves for the onset, but autism actually happens almost immediately after conception. It can sometimes come from both parents.  

In the latest research, over 1,000 families were studied. There are 10 to 100 genes involved in autism, in different combinations, making it hard to find the genes that are responsible.

How to participate

To participate in the research program, a child must have a formal diagnosis of an Autistic Spectrum Disorder and have had basic genetic testing.

Participants must be willing to give consent for parents and child, provide information about medical and family history and/or give permission to obtain medical records.  

The child and both biological parents (if available) must also agree to donate a small amount of blood, and may be asked to complete one or more psychological tests.

 

The goal is to have about 250 families for a total of about 1,250 participants.  There is no cost involved.

The research study is being led by Her-man. Other doctors, clinicians and scien-tists will be involved in the study from Nationwide and Wright-Patterson’s hospital.

Those interested in being a part of the study can contact coordinator Elizabeth Varga at 614-355-3607 or 1-800-792-8401, or by e-mail at Elizabeth.Varga@Nationwidechildrens.org.

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