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June 16,
2003

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Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

$7.5 million to fund autism research

The Medical Center is among eight institutions in the United States selected by the National Institutes of Health to study treatments for autism, an early childhood brain disorder. The $7.5 million, five-year grant will fund studies in diet and intensive behavioral therapy, with related investigations into neurobiology and genetics.

"Autism treatment is very expensive financially and emotionally--and no single approach works for all children," says Patricia Rodier, professor of obstetrics and gynecology and principal investigator on the Medical Center project. "That's why it is so important to answer the big questions: 'Who is going to respond? And to what treatment?' If we could predict in advance which children would benefit from available treatments and which would not, children could be matched to the best treatments available."

At the Medical Center, the initiative, called STAART or Studies to Advance Autism Research and Treatment, will focus primarily on two treatments. The first is an investigation into a popular theory that symptoms improve when a child with autism stops eating foods containing gluten (wheat, rye, oats) and dairy products. The University team will conduct a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial to study the link between diet and behavior.

In an additional study, researchers will focus on behavioral treatments and collect data on IQ, social and language skills, repetitive movements, and other characteristics of children with autism.

Autism is a life-long brain disorder typically diagnosed by age three as a child fails to pass typical milestones expected between infancy and the toddler years. Autism, labeled a spectrum disorder, can range in forms from mild to severe. Symptoms often include difficulties with language skills, problems with social interactions, or displays of odd, repetitive behaviors.

Experts estimate that one in 200-300 children have autism spectrum disorders. Although there is no cure, many children do respond to current therapies.



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