Senators to review research on autism's enviro causes
Environment and Energy Daily
August 2, 2010
Gayathri Vaidyanathan, E&E reporter
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will meet tomorrow to probe the state of research into the environmental causes of autism and other neurodevelopment disorders.
The Children's Health Subcommittee will hear from U.S. EPA and National Institutes of Health officials on the progress of federally funded work into the causes of autism and other development disorders of the brain.
It is likely that the hearing will be a step toward reauthorizing the 2006 Combating Autism Act, which is set to expire in 2011.
Autism is thought to result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. While the interaction of genes and mutations is somewhat known by now, little work has been done on potential environmental risk factors. There are likely to be many disparate causes leading to autism.
The incidence of autism spectrum disorders, or ASDs, is increasing in the United States, with one in every 110 children affected. Rates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, in children are also rising -- nearly 4.5 million children between 3 and 17 years of age have it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The subpanel will hear from Isaac Pessah, director of the University of California, Davis, Children's Center for Environmental Health and Disease Prevention, which has received $7.5 million from EPA since 2007 for research to investigate possible environmental causes.
UC Davis is working on a project called MARBLES (Markers of Autism Risk in Babies -- Learning Early Signs) to identify early predictors of autism, whether genetic, environmental or immunologic. According to the project proposal submitted to EPA, the project will look at whether autistic children are differently exposed to metals, pesticides, polybrominated diphenylethers and other chemicals.
The work is a corollary to a long-term study called CHARGE in which UC Davis researchers are casting a wide net to catch possible environmental contributors in a group of 2- to 5-year-old autistic children. They are screening for pesticides, metals, flame retardant compounds, viruses and bacteria and pharmaceuticals.
UC Davis and other groups are also receiving money from NIH's National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program, and the subcommittee will hear from the program's director, Linda Birnbaum.
NIH is funding a study together with the nonprofit Autism Speaks that is enrolling mothers who already have one autistic child and are again pregnant to study exposures during fetal development.
The annual cost of caring for people with autism is $35 billion, according to Geraldine Dawson, chief scientific officer at Autism Speaks.
NIH has provided nearly $225 million for research, which Dawsom called miniscule. The funding comes from the Combating Autism Act, which authorized $7 billion for autism-related work including screening, education, intervention and research.
"President Obama has listed autism as one of three health concerns to be combated in the United States," Dawson said. "The current act is a step in the right direction, but due to the magnitude of the public health challenge that autism presents, we need a great deal more funding."
The rate of children with the disease has risen by 600 percent in the last decade, a number so dramatic it cannot be explained solely by better diagnosis, Dawson said.
Schedule: The hearing is tomorrow at 10 a.m. in 406 Dirksen.
Witnesses: Paul Anastas, assistant administrator of the Office of Research and Development, U.S. EPA; Linda Birnbaum, NIH's director of the National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program; Isaac Pessah, director of the UC Davis Children's Center for Environmental Health and Disease Prevention; Bruce Lanphear, senior scientist at the Child & Family Research Institute; and Mary Moen, parent.
August 2, 2010
Senate Hearings on Environmental Causes of Autism Tomorrow
The hearing will be streamed on this page tomorrow.