Strategic Plan Objective Detail
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Question 2: Objective 6  

Fiscal Year: 2008

Yellow dot: Objective has some degree of funding, but less than the recommended amount.2.6 Maintain an international network of biobanks and support continued collection of brain and other tissue. IACC Recommended Budget: $22,200,000 over 5 years.

Download 2008 Question 2: Objective 6 projects (EXCEL)
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Project Title Principal Investigator Institution
Autism Treatment Program (ATP) Lightfoot, Daniel Autism Speaks

Objective Multiyear Funding Table

IACC Strategic Plan Objectives 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 Total
Establish and maintain an international network of biobanks for the collection of brain tissue, fibroblasts for pluripotent stem cells, and other tissue or biological material, by acquisition sites that use standardized protocols for phenotyping, collection, and regulated distribution of limited samples by 2011.
  • This includes support for post-processing of tissue, such as genotyping, RNA expression profiling, and MRI.
  • Protocols should be put into place to expand the capacities of ongoing large-scale children's studies to collect and store additional biomaterials, including newborn bloodspots, promoting detection of biological signatures.
  • Support should also be provided to develop an international web-based digital brain atlas that would provide high-resolution 3-D images and quantitative anatomical data from tissue of patients with ASD and disease controls across the lifespan, which could serve as an online resource for quantitative morphological studies, by 2014.
IACC Recommended Budget: $82,700,000 over 5 years (revised in 2011)
2.1 & 2.6
1 project &
1 project

2 projects

6 projects

6 projects

5 projects

7.D. Funding: The recommended budget was partially met. In terms of autism-specific projects, $24.7 million has been spent to date. Including non-autism-specific projects called for in the objective (i.e., the brain atlas), $59.6 million  has been spent to date.

Progress: NIH launched a new multi-disorder Neurobiobank initiative in 2013. The $5 million effort encompasses autism and other brain disorders, and is not included in the 2008-2012 projects examined by the committee for this update because it began in 2013. A private effort, the Autism BrainNet, is also underway, with several collection/storage/distribution sites governed by a scientific board which distributes samples based on scientific merit of proposed projects to use the tissue. Though these two efforts represent progress, more work is needed to increase the amount of tissues available and to ensure good stewardship of these resources. The BrainSpan Atlas,  supported by the Allen Brain Institute and a consortium of government and private funders, was completed and launched in 2011 and provides a powerful new resource for data on gene expression in the brain during development, but the project is not reflected in the 2008-2012 funding figures because it is not autism specific. In 2009, NIH supported the atlas with $18.4 million dollars and in 2010, NIH provided $16.5 million. The NIMH Repository and Genomics Resource is another resource that has continued to grow to meet the needs of researchers in many fields, including ASD research. Current sample numbers in the repository are: 28,300 DNA samples, with 15,700 samples that have been processed and prepared for distribution and 6,300 cases of autism represented. There are 21 fibroblast lines and 25 induced pluripotent stem cell lines.

Remaining Gaps, Needs and Opportunities: While progress has been made in establishing, maintaining and expanding tissue resources for research, this is still an area of enormous need. Currently there may be fewer brain samples available for study than there were at the inception of the Strategic Plan due to the failure of a freezer at a major brain bank in 2012, which resulted in the loss of a large number of ASD brain specimens. There is also still a need for tissue and brains from neurotypical controls. Compared to other disorders, the number of tissue samples available for ASD research is quite low.