S. Jill James, PhD, director of the autism metabolic genomics laboratory at the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI), will direct this research. With the funds, Dr. James will lead three related studies, all aimed at understanding the biochemical abnormalities in children with autism with the goal of providing improved treatment options for these children.
“Because the causes of autism are still not understood, we are working to identify biochemical markers that can give us clues into the underlying pathology of autism and help us to better understand the genetic and environmental risk factors associated with its development,” said Dr. James. “We hope to translate these findings into clinical trials designed to treat both behavioral symptoms and medical problems associated with autism.”
Autism, a group of complex disorders of brain development, is a growing issue nationally and in Arkansas. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. Gastrointestinal and immune system functions may also be affected.
“While there will never be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ treatment for autism, targeted treatment trials based on individual laboratory results provide the best hope of determining which treatment is best for each child,” said Dr. James. “We are very fortunate and grateful to have the support of the Johnson Foundation to help us with our work to improve the lives of children with autism and associated disorders.”
In 2006, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified one in every 110 American children as on the autism spectrum – a 600 percent increase in prevalence over the past two decades. Studies also show autism is four times more common among boys than girls. An estimated one of 70 boys is diagnosed with autism in the United States.
“Jill James’ work at ACHRI holds great promise for the future of autism therapy and prevention,” said Jane Botsford Johnson. “Her research examines both heredity and environmental factors and is extremely innovative. I am thrilled to invest in this two-pronged approach to finding answers about the causes of autism and new treatments.”
This $1.2 million gift supports the Century of Possibility Centennial Campaign to benefit ACH. Through the fundraising campaign, the hospital has set a goal to raise $160 million to support pediatric care, research, education and prevention, and has already raised $102 million.
“It is wonderful that philanthropists like Mrs. Johnson have dedicated their resources to supporting basic medical research for important areas of research that have been consistently underfunded,” said Dr. Richard Frye, director of autism research at ACHRI. “ACH has dedicated resources to supporting the infrastructure of an Autism Center of Excellence, which aims to translate the wonderful basic research from leaders in the field, such as Dr. James, to life-changing treatments for the children we regularly treat in the ACH clinics. Further philanthropy is essential to support our efforts to test new treatments for autism in clinical trials and to discover biomarkers that identify subgroups of children with autism that will benefit from specific treatment.”
According to Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, more children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes and cancer, combined.
“Research like Dr. James’, which directly benefits children, is what we do every day here at the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute,” said Dr. Richard Jacobs, president of ACHRI. “Gifts like the one from the Jane Botsford Johnson Foundation enable us to do more not only for the patients we treat, but also for the generations of children to come. This donation will truly make a ‘century of possibility’ a reality for thousands of children with autism.”