The National Institutes of Health has awarded a total of $100 million over the next five years to support nine Autism Centers of Excellence (ACEs). This endeavor funds large research projects to understand and develop interventions for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 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 supports research on the diagnosis, causes of, and interventions for ASD. It also seeks to facilitate innovative and cost-effective services for people with ASD throughout the lifespan. The awards support research at individual centers, which feature collaboration between teams of experts, and at research networks, which involve multiple institutions, dedicated to the study of ASD. Each center and network focus on a specific research topic.
Each ACE will adopt a specific Plan for Enhancing Diverse Perspectives (PEDP) as part of its proposed research project. The PEDP will outline strategies to increase participation of women and individuals from traditionally underrepresented groups in the ACE biomedical, behavioral, and clinical workforce. Additionally, the PEDP is intended to increase the participation of underrepresented and underserved populations in research.
Community engagement is also a core feature of the ACE program. Each ACE will have an external advisory board that includes individuals with ASD and/or parents of individuals with ASD as members. In addition, ACE investigators will engage with the ASD community to learn about their needs and research concerns and to inform them about research findings and plans for future studies.
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.