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Studying sex differences in autism focus of $15 million NIH award to Yale center

September 07, 2012
by Karen Peart

The reasons why autism spectrum disorders are almost five times more common among boys than among girls may soon be revealed, thanks to a five-year, $15 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant awarded to Yale School of Medicine for the Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) research program.

Led by principal investigator Kevin Pelphrey of Yale Child Study Center, the Yale ACE award is part of a $100 million National Institutes of Health grant to nine institutions investigating sex differences in autism spectrum disorders, or ASD, as well as studying ASD and limited speech.

Pelphrey and a collaborative team of researchers from Yale, UCLA, Harvard, and the University of Washington, will investigate the poorly understood nature of autism in females. The team will study an unprecedented number of girls with autism and will focus on genes, brain function, and behavior throughout childhood and adolescence. The objectives are to identify causes of autism and develop novel treatments.

ASDs are complex developmental disorders that affect how a person behaves, interacts with others, communicates, and learns. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ASD affects approximately 1 in 88 children in the United States.

“This award represents an innovative collaboration among three laboratories at Yale led by Drs. Matthew State, James McPartland, and myself,” said Pelphrey, the Harris Associate Professor in the Child Study Center, and associate professor of psychology, and director of the Child Neuroscience Laboratory. “It is my hope that this award will invigorate research in autism at Yale and allow us to maintain our outstanding history of cutting edge work in this field.”

NIH created the ACE Program in 2007 to launch an intense and coordinated research program into the causes of ASD and to find new treatments. The program supports large collaborative efforts to advance the broad research goals. The program expanded this year to examine such issues as children and adults who have limited or no speech, possible links between ASD and other genetic syndromes, potential treatments, and the possible reasons why ASDs are more common among boys than girls, according to Alice Kay of the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Branch at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), one of five institutes funding the ACE program.

In addition to the NICHD, the NIH institutes that support the ACE program are the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

The eight other researchers to receive ACE funding hail from the following institutions: University of California, Emory University, Boston University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and Harvard Medical School.

*Research reported here was supported by the National Institute Of Mental Health (NIMH) of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01MH100028.


Karen N. Peart

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Submitted by Liz Pantani on September 07, 2012