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Breaking the Silence: $7.5 Million to UC Davis to Research Autism

Release Date: 08/08/2007
Contact Information: Suzanne Ackerman, (202) 564-4355 / ackerman.suzanne@epa.gov

(Washington, D.C. - Aug. 8, 2007) In order to continue federal progress on research on autism, EPA and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) today announced renewed funding for The University of California/Davis's Center for Children's Environmental Health (CCEH). This center will investigate how genes and exposure to environmental chemicals during fetal development may play a role in the development of autism. The UC Davis Center will support three projects in partnership with the internationally recognized M.I.N.D. Institute of Sacramento, Calif.

In the past, health problems were attributed to a single cause and effect: a virus, genetics, or trauma. But many illnesses do not fit this model. There are a number of emerging theories that many diseases are influenced by multiple environment and genes (heredity), the environment, and gene-environment interactions.

There are several childhood ailments that are rising with no obvious explanation: asthma, allergies and autism. Estimates show that there could be up to 1.5 million autistic people in the United States today. The causes of autism are largely unknown, although a high familial recurrence rate supports a strong genetic component. Autism is a disorder defined by lack of social and communication skills, limited capacity for language, and repetitive patterns of behavior.

"It is part of EPA's mission to protect even the most vulnerable members of our society. Autism is a serious developmental problem affecting over 1 million children," said George Gray, EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Research and Development. "Therefore, EPA is pleased to fund the UC Davis Center that brings together high caliber scientists from many disciplines to address key needs in research, assessment, treatment and outreach."

The ultimate goal of the center is to determine the mechanisms by which chemicals known to be toxic to the developing nervous and immune systems contribute to abnormal development of social behavior in children, leading to strategies for prevention and intervention. Researchers will also identify which combination of environmental exposures most likely contribute to the problem.

More about the EPA/NIEHS Children's Centers Research on Autism: http://es.epa.gov/ncer/childrenscenters/autism.html

More about the Centers for Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research: http://es.epa.gov/ncer/childrenscenters/