Monday, August 09, 2010

Autism Speaks Supports More Environmental Research? Terrific! Now Please Help Even Out the Funding

Right now, about 10 to 20 times more research dollars are spent on studies of the genetic causes of autism than on environmental ones.

We need to even out the funding.

Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute

I have been a  supporter of Autism Speaks over the course of its brief existence. I appreciate the media savvy and political skills of its leadership. The World Autism Awareness Day that it assisted in bringing into existence is, in my humble opinion, a great accomplishment in itself.  The connections and skills of Autism Speaks leadership have been very impressive in bringing in people and events who, by themselves command attention, from NASCAR to Jerry Seinfeld, people and events that are seen and heard focusing on autism.  Well done, very well done.

I have though been concerned, rightly or wrongly, about  what I thought was a  subscription by Autism Speaks to the "it's gotta be genetic" mindset which has dominated autism research  and hindered  progress in understanding autism disorders and developing treatments and cures.   I was pleasantly surprised when I received from Jane Rubenstein of Rubenstein Communications Inc. the Autism Speaks statement  "HEARING ON STATE OF RESEARCH ON POTENTIAL ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH FACTORS WITH AUTISM AND RELATED NEURODEVELOPMENT DISORDERS U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, Subcommittee on Children’s Health".   In the statement Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Dr. Geri Dawson states unequivocally Autism Speaks endorsement on the need for more environmentally based autism research:

(NEW YORK, N.Y., August 4, 2010) – Autism Speaks’ Chief Science Officer Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D. emphasized the importance of research on environmental risk factors for autism spectrum disorders as the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, Subcommittee on Children’s Health convened a special hearing yesterday on potential environmental health factors associated with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and related neurodevelopmental disorders. The hearing examined the latest research on potential environmental factors that may increase the risk for autism spectrum disorders.

As this hearing reviewed studies funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences on environmental factors associated with autism, including toxins and other factors that can influence brain development, Dr. Dawson reiterated that it is important to remember that, “Although genetic factors clearly contribute to the causes of autism, we also need to understand environmental factors and their interactions with genetic susceptibility.”

Dr. Dawson's statement  includes examples of  what appear to be impressive  initiatives undertaken by Autism Speaks in support of environmental autism research.  The links to review these initiatives can be found on the Autism Speaks web site, science section.  What isn't clear is the level of financial commitment to environmental autism research compared to genetic research.  Does, or will, Autism Speaks commit to balanced funding of environmental and genetic autism research as called for by Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto of the UC David MIND Institute?

If I have wronged Autism Speaks with my perception of an imbalance on its part in favor of genetic over environmental autism research I would genuinely appreciate being notified of my error. If that is the case then I will apologize but would humbly and respectfully ask Autism Speaks to use its proven and impressive communication skills to convince public health funding authorities to follow the approach recommended by Dr. Hertz-Picciotto. 

Much valuable time has been lost with the autism is genetic obsession.

Balanced funding of environmental and genetic autism research is needed now, not tomorrow.


Jean Nicol said...

This is indeed good news. Would we be so lucky as to now have a cause that will unite all those concerned about autism research? This united voice might be powerful enough to bring needed funding.

jonathan said...

Balancing the funding of environment versus genetics should not be worried about until the imbalance of autism speaks' funding neurodiversity concerns is eliminated. Dr. Mottron will undoubtedly try to renew his half a million dollar grant when it expires next June.

Also, the funding of some neurodiversity kids in their early 20s who are barely affected by their autism if at all for making some films for fun should be stopped.