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Autism: Grant Aims to Accelerate Development of Treatments

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(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) - Jacqueline Crawley, the Robert E. Chason Endowed Chair in Translational Research in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, will participate in the Preclinical Autism Consortium for Therapeutics (PACT), a new partnership sponsored by Autism Speaks to facilitate the discovery of effective treatments for individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Other collaborators in the initiative are at Boston Children's Hospital and at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

There are no Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medications available to treat the diagnostic symptoms of autism. The two approved treatments address associated irritability and are not adequate to respond to the need for pharmacological therapeutics in combination with behavioral interventions, that will significantly improve the quality of life for people with autism.

The partnership will develop a platform of preclinical tests in rodent models of genetic risk for autism that will evaluate and compare new medications and assess their effectiveness for ameliorating abnormalities in social interactions, communication, anxiety, cognitive, repetitive, sensory, attention, hyperactivity, and electrophysiological brain activity in people with autism.

The use of two species, a standardized set of multiple corroborative assays, and an unprecedented focus on reproducibility, will differentiate the translational value of the PACT approach, Crawley said. Once the platform is established for multiple models in both mice and rats with the same mutation associated with autism, PACT will begin to test promising compounds for preclinical efficacy.

"Creating a set of standard and reliable behavioral assessments and recording the brain's spontaneous electrical responses are approaches that directly correlate to clinical practice, streamlining the process from preclinical to clinical testing for promising new medications," said Crawley, a researcher affiliated with the UC Davis MIND Institute.

The initiative is funded with a two-year, nearly $800,000 grant to Crawley from Autism Speaks.

Autism Speaks is the world's leading autism science and advocacy organization. It is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.

"Our goals are to increase success of autism medications development, attract more investment to the field and increase the quality of new medications advancing toward clinical trials," said Daniel Smith, senior director of discovery neuroscience for Autism Speaks. "We created PACT to improve the early phases of the medicine discovery and development process for autism spectrum disorder."

Crawley's collaborators are Mustafa Sahin at the Boston Children's Hospital and Richard Paylor at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

At the UC Davis MIND Institute, world-renowned scientists engage in collaborative, interdisciplinary research to find the causes of and develop treatments and cures for autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), fragile X syndrome, 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, Down syndrome and other neurodevelopmental disorders. For more information, visit http://mindinstitute.ucdavis.edu.