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Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) Program

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Overview

The ACE Program is a trans-NIH initiative that supports large-scale multidisciplinary studies on autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), with the goal of determining the disorders’ causes and the best treatments for them.

The Program includes ACE research centers, which foster collaboration between teams of specialists who share the same facility to address a particular research problem in depth, and ACE research networks, which consist of researchers at many facilities in locations throughout the country, all of whom work together on a single research question. ACE currently comprises 6 research centers and 5 research networks around the United States; as of 2009, the NICHD had primary responsibility for the support of 4 centers and 1 network. ACE is funded through a combination of 3 grant mechanisms: P50 for ACE centers and R01 and U01 grants for ACE networks.

The Program receives support from the NICHD Intellectual and Developmental Disorders (IDD) Branch, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. These Institutes are also active members of the NIH Autism Coordinating Committee (NIH ACC), which was created in 1997 in response to a request from Congress to enhance the quality, pace, and coordination of autism research at the NIH. They are also key members of the broader federal Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), which includes representatives from various agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other governmental agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education.

ACE institutions are required to collect data using common methods and to submit all data to the NIH’s centralized National Database for Autism Research (NDAR). This informatics platform allows for the seamless integration of data, research tools, and research projects from institutions around the world and increases the power and efficiency of ACE research.

The ACE Program was created in 2007 from the consolidation of the Collaborative Program of Excellence in Autism (CPEA) and the Studies to Advance Autism Treatment and Research (STAART) Network, in an effort to better coordinate autism research across the NIH.

Topic Areas

The IACC and the NIH ACC play critical roles in developing goals and objectives for ACE Program research. In addition to the Autism Research Matrix, topics addressed are based on gaps identified in the 2011 Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee Strategic Plan for Autism. ACE research topics include (but are not limited to):

  • The structural and functional differences in the brains of infants who will later develop autism, including differences linked to learning, emotion, behavior, and communication
  • The genetic bases of autism risk and of specific symptoms of autism, such as communication difficulties and repetitive behaviors
  • Behaviors linked to autism, including interpersonal interactions, insistence on sameness, and fixation on narrow subjects
  • Factors present prenatally or in infancy, such as neurological, physical, behavioral, communication-related, and environmental factors, that predispose some infants to autism and protect others
  • Pharmacological and behavioral treatments to promote more normal brain development and better outcomes in children with autism

Current Sites

ACE Research Centers

ACE Research Networks

Map of United States with ACE Research Networks

More Information

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Last Updated Date: 10/23/2013
Last Reviewed Date: 10/23/2013
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