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Rising to the Challenge: NIH Will Use $60 Million in Recovery Act Funds to Support Strategic Autism Research

Press Release

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will commit roughly $60 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to support autism research and meet objectives set forth earlier this year by a federal advisory committee. The Request for Applications is the largest funding opportunity for research on autism spectrum disorders (ASD) to date and, combined with other ARRA initiatives, represents a surge in NIH's commitment to finding the causes and treatments for autism.

Four grant announcements, sharing a single title, "Research to Address the Heterogeneity in Autism Spectrum Disorders," will use different funding mechanisms to support a range of research topics over the next two years. Examples of research topics include developing and testing diagnostic screening tools for different populations; assessing risk from prenatal or early life exposures; initiating clinical trials to test early interventions; or adapting existing, effective pediatric treatments for older children, teens, and adults with ASD. For a full listing of possible study topics, see the grant announcement listing in the NIH Guide . While few trials can be completed in two years, ARRA funds will be important for jumpstarting projects and building the infrastructure or foundation for longer-term autism research efforts.

These topics correspond directly to short-term research objectives detailed in the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee's (IACC's) Strategic Plan for Autism Spectrum Disorder Research , released earlier this month. Comprising representatives of federal agencies and members of the public, the IACC coordinates efforts within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concerning ASD. The group's strategic plan, created with the input of the scientific community, service providers, advocates, parents, and people with ASD, is organized around six critical questions asked by people and families living with ASD:

  • When should I be concerned?
  • How can I understand what is happening?
  • What caused this to happen and can this be prevented?
  • Which treatments and interventions will help?
  • Where can I turn for services?
  • What does the future hold?

Targeting Recovery Act funds toward objectives identified in the IACC strategic plan will help move the science forward sooner than anticipated in addressing some of the most significant challenges to understanding and treating ASD.

As part of the ARRA, these autism grants will promote economic recovery by creating and maintaining biomedical jobs, as well as supporting innovative projects to serve as platforms for future, longer-term research efforts. Beyond those who will receive direct funding for their work, these new grants will also benefit allied health workers, technicians, students, and other groups affiliated with the scientific research community. All grants funded by the ARRA and their outcomes will be posted on a new Web site, www.recovery.gov, providing transparency and accountability.

"The Recovery Act comes at an opportune time for autism research," said Thomas R. Insel, M.D., NIMH director and IACC chair. "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. With the arrival of new funds, we can immediately start on many of the short-term objectives in the plan and use Recovery Act funds to support science that will facilitate the best possible outcomes for people with ASD and their families."

As with all Recovery Act funds, NIH is required to obligate the $60 million within two years. Answering this mandate will entail a highly streamlined process for reviewing grant applications and allocating funds by Sept. 30, 2010. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of NIH, will lead this effort, with participation from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute on Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), and the National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

Researchers funded through these new autism grants will be expected to contribute to the National Database for Autism Research (NDAR). NDAR was established to serve the autism research community as a common platform for exchanging data, tools, and research-related information, as well as to serve as a portal to and for the broad autism research community. For more information about NDAR or data sharing policies, please refer to the funding opportunity announcements or see http://ndar.nih.gov .

In addition to the NIMH-led effort, NIH will allocate another portion of its ARRA funds for autism research and related programs through the NIH Challenge Grants in Health and Science initiative and other potential programs. These grants will be announced in the coming weeks.

The mission of the NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. For more information, visit www.nimh.nih.gov.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) - The National's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov .

The activities described in this release are being funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). To track the progress of HHS activities funded through the ARRA, visit www.hhs.gov/recovery . To track all federal funds provided through the ARRA, visit www.recovery.gov .