The NLM Family Foundation supports autism-related programs and research endeavors in the following areas:
Advocacy, Education & Social Policy: The NLM Family Foundation supports a broad range of projects dedicated to advancing the cause of autism in the public arena: from capacity-building of public organizations; to nourishing progressive advocacy networks; to educating the public; to expanding community opportunities inclusive of individuals with autism; and, to examining public policy issues related to autism. The Foundation also supports the production and dissemination of films and other media to help increase society’s awareness and understanding of autism.
Basic Science: The principal goal of the scientific program at the NLMFF is to contribute to a deeper understanding of the biological basis of autism. Basic science research lays the foundation of knowledge for the applied science that follows. To achieve this objective, the NLM Family Foundation funds multi-investigator program projects across institutions, RO1-type grants to individual investigators, career development awards to tenured track junior faculty, and targeted postdoctoral fellowships. The following areas are examples of where the NLM Foundation has focused its basic science efforts:
Anatomy & Physiology: The NLM Family Foundation is committed to increasing the scientific understanding of autism through investigating its roots in anatomy and physiology. As part of its strategy in pursuit of this goal, the Foundation supports research focused on exploring differences in brain structure and function in autism. Research in this area could contribute to better diagnostics and lead to improved treatment and rehabilitation therapies.
Genetics: Twin studies suggest that autism has a large genetic component; however, to date, few autism susceptibility genes have been identified. The Foundation supports genetics projects to identify these genes and to deepen our understanding of the underlying molecular and biological processes involved in autism. This knowledge may one day provide the framework for medical remediation.
Neuroimaging: The NLM Family Foundation is interested in the use of brain imaging technologies to elucidate areas of brain structure and activity which may shed light on autism. Research in this area may contribute to the understanding of cognitive, sensory and motor processes; to a deeper understanding of behavioral differences in autism; to the future study of rehabilitation/education strategies; and to future investigations of brain plasticity and developmental changes.
Cellular & Molecular Mechanisms: Genetic and animal model studies have identified cellular circuits which control the responses to outside stimulation by growth or stress factors. In neurons these same circuits are active in dendritic spines, micron-sized structures at the point of contact between communicating neurons. Change in these biochemical compartments is the basis of synaptic plasticity, the physical process underlying learning and memory.
Systems Biology: Systems biology of autism focuses on how signaling and control circuits regulate the development and functioning of the body. The central problem is to understand the mutual interactions of the immune system and the brain, as well as the temporal dynamics of the neuromuscular system giving rise to speech. This field is thus the bridge between the molecular world of genes and proteins and the sensory world which pervades human experience.
Career Development Awards: The NLMFF is committed to fostering the development of the next generation of leading autism researchers. Our Career Development Award program supports promising early- to mid-career scientists by facilitating their transition to research independence in the field of autism spectrum disorders. CDAs are aimed at postdoctoral fellows who intend to seek tenure-track faculty positions. On occasion, this program provides support for scientists in related fields who wish to acquire new research skills or knowledge relevant to autism.
Community: The NLM Foundation selects specific recreation providers with whom to partner in order to create enjoyable, satisfying programs for the growing population of middle-aged and older adults with autism who often lack access to age-appropriate recreational opportunities. The Foundation also works with professional development organizations in the recreation sector to expand expertise in the field.
Major Projects: Major grants are awarded based on a separate set of guidelines through an internal RFP process and distributed over a multi-year period. These grants are awarded based on a competitive solicitation of proposals from a smaller, select group of institutions for work that is innovative, has measurable outcomes, and will have a significant impact on the autism community.
Sponsored Symposia: The NLM Family Foundation supports a diversity of workshops and conferences that seek to synthesize new knowledge, address identified needs, and catalyze social change. This reflects the Foundation’s commitment to progressive ideas generated by the professional and lay autism community at large. Such forums help provide the ground for building new networks and services for autism.
Translational Science: The NLM Foundation supports researchers who collaborate across disciplines to integrate basic science with clinical research by applying insights from controlled laboratory studies to address the real-life needs of the autism community. The following areas are examples of where the NLM Foundation has focused its applied science efforts:
Treatment: The NLM Family Foundation supports research aimed at improving treatments including biomedical, pharmacological, psychosocial, and assistive technologies that will improve the quality of life for those living with autism.
Clinical Assessment & Diagnosis: The NLM Family Foundation is particularly interested in research leading to enhanced diagnostic procedures for those persons with autism who are nonverbal or have limited speech.
Communication: Many individuals with autism demonstrate difficulties with verbal and nonverbal communication. The NLM Family Foundation supports projects aimed at investigating communication difficulties as well as communication capacities and options for individuals with autism. The study of communication modalities, with a translational orientation, is essential to developing support systems that may enhance the quality of life for many children and adults with autism.