Columbia Receives NIH Autism Center of Excellence Grant

The National Institutes of Health recently announced $100 million in awards over five years to support nine Autism Centers of Excellence (ACEs)— including Columbia University— which lead multi-institutional research projects to understand and develop interventions for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The NIH award will help fund a collaborative effort of the Columbia University Department of Pediatrics and Department of Psychiatry titled Prospective Genetic Risk Evaluation and Assessment in Autism.

Led by Wendy K. Chung, MD, PhD, the Kennedy Family Professor of Pediatrics in Medicine, and Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, MD, the Suzanne Crosby Murphy Professor of Developmental Neuropsychiatry, both at the Columbia Vagelos School of Physicians and Surgeons, the study will identify a diverse sample of 240 infants with increased genetic risk for developing ASD and other neurodevelopmental conditions, comparing their development to that of a group of 120 infants who do not have an identified genetic risk.

The researchers will track the children’s neurological, cognitive and behavioral development to classify emerging features of ASD in early development, which could then be used to identify other children at risk for ASD. The researchers also will study the experience of families who have received information about genetic risk, and their choices about early interventions.

Created in 2007, the ACE program is renewed every five years. ASD is a complex developmental disorder affecting how a person behaves, interacts with others, communicates, and learns. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that ASD affects nearly 2% of 8-year-olds in the United States.

The ACE program is supported by NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Other Columbia collaborators include Yufeng Shen, PhD, associate professor, Departments of Systems Biology and Biomedical Informatics; Paul Appelbaum, MD, the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor, Department of Psychiatry; Matthew Lebowitz, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Psychiatry; Dima Amso, PhD, professor, Department of Psychology; William Fifer, PhD, professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics; Melanie Wall, PhD, professor, Department of Psychiatry; Gazi Azad, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Psychiatry; Dennis Vitkup, PhD, associate professor, Department of Systems Biology; Chaolin Zhang, PhD, associate professor, Department of Systems Biology;  Jordan Dworkin, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Psychiatry; Kally Sparks, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Psychiatry; Lauren Shuffrey, PhD, associate research scientist, Department of Psychiatry; Julia Wynn, MS, Department of Genetic Counseling; Rebecca Muhle, MD, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Psychiatry; and Stephen Kanne, PhD, professor at Weill ornell Medicine and adjunct professor, Columbia Department of Psychiatry.

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