$7.5 Million NIH Grant to Yale for Autism Center of Excellence

Ami Klin

The Yale Child Study Center has been awarded the Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) status by the National Institutes of Health. This highly competitive and prestigious award comes with $7.5 million of direct funding over five years to the Autism Program led by Ami Klin.

“This is our largest award to date, and signifies a recognition of the national leadership in research of autism provided by our interdisciplinary group of clinical scientists,” said Klin, the Harris Associate Professor of Child Psychology & Psychiatry in the Child Study Center. “The Yale ACE will further strengthen our commitment to finding the causes of autism and developing more effective treatments.”

Klin’s colleagues on the Yale ACE include Fred Volkmar, Robert Schultz, Warren Jones, Kasia Chawarska, Rhea Paul, Matthew State, Elena Grigorenko and Joseph Chang. The team plans three longitudinal projects focused on infants with autism aged 12 to 24 months. Another project involves neuroimaging studies of a cohort of children evaluated at various stages in their development, first at two years of age, then at four and eight and finally at 10-years-old. The researchers hope to trace underlying mechanisms of brain growth and specialization of individuals with autism. A fifth project focuses on a family of genes and linked proteins found to be associated with forms of autism.

Autism is a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person’s ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and it is often accompanied by extreme behavioral challenges. Autism affects about two million Americans. Autism Spectrum Disorders are diagnosed in one in 150 children in the United States and affects four times as many boys as girls. Researchers do not know how many subtypes of autism exist. There are probably several causes giving rise to this neurodevelopmental syndrome, but researchers have found that it is the most strongly genetic condition among all developmental disorders.

“The Yale Child Study Center has led the way in research of autism for several decades,” said Volkmar, the Irving B. Harris Professor of Child Psychiatry, Pediatrics and Psychology, and Director of the Yale Child Study Center. “This award signifies a redoubling of our efforts in an attempt to meet the magnitude and urgency of the task at hand.”

Key in this effort is the involvement of the Yale Child Study Center Developmental Disabilities Clinics and the Yale University Department of Statistics. A longstanding collaboration with the Yale School of Medicine Department of Genetics also strengthens the research program.

The main sponsor of the Yale ACE will be the National Institutes of Mental Health, in partnership with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

In addition to ACE, Yale also received funding for two multi-site projects. The first is a network focused on neuroimaging studies of infants at risk for autism led at Yale by Schultz, associate professor in the Yale Child Study Center and Diagnostic Radiology, and co-director of the Yale Developmental Neuroimaging Program. This network will trace mechanisms of brain growth, which are altered in autism in the first two years of life. The second is a network focused on gene findings led at Yale by State, the Harris Associate Professor of Child Psychiatry and Genetics, and Director of the Yale Program on Neurogenetics. This network signifies the pooling of resources of the national leaders in genetics research of autism with a view to speed up the discovery of genes and their mechanisms of action.

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Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-432-1326