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Collaborative Programs of Excellence in Autism (CPEAs)/Studies to Advance Autism Research & Treatment (STAART) Centers

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These projects were superseded by the Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) Program and are no longer active. Information on these projects is intended for reference purposes only.


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 The CPEA and the STAART Networks conducted and supported studies on the causes, diagnosis, prevention, detection, and treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). These Networks were consolidated in 2007 into the Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) Program to enable pooling of resources and maximum coordination and efficiency for autism research across the NIH. Information on these Networks is intended for reference purposes only.


CPEA Network

The NICHD, in collaboration with the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), initiated the CPEA Network in 1997 as a 5-year, $45 million, international research network that focused on the neurobiology and genetics of autism. The Network included 10 sites that conducted research to learn about the genetic, immunological, environmental, and other possible causes of autism. In 2002, the Network received renewed funding of $60 million for the next 5 years.

The CPEA Network was the first of its kind to address unique research topics at each center. Although each multidisciplinary, often multi-site project had a unique focus and research plan, many projects also used a common diagnostic protocol and common core measures, enabling the Network to investigate more far-reaching questions than a single project could address alone. In addition, whenever possible and necessary, multiple sites pooled their data to address specific research questions. CPEAs linked 129 scientists from 23 universities in the United States, Canada, Britain, and five other countries, and more than 2,000 families affected by autism. As a result, the Network collected data on the genetic and physical characteristics of the world's largest group of well-diagnosed persons with autism.

The CPEA Network and its projects served as a model for future collaborative scientific projects, including the STAART Network. The CPEAs ended after their second 5-year funding period expired in 2007.

STAART Network

The STAART Network was initiated in response to the Children's Health Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-310), which mandated that the NIH support a program of at least five centers of excellence focused on autism and related disorders. The initial $65 million for the STAART Network came from the Institutes involved in the NIH Autism Coordinating Committee (NIH ACC), also mandated by the Act, including the NICHD, the NIDCD, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Each STAART site supported and conducted both individual and collaborative projects to learn more about the causes, diagnosis, early detection, prevention, and treatments of autism. NIMH, which led the efforts on STAART, describes the Network's projects at The STAART Network ended after its 5-year funding period expired in 2007.
In 2003, the NICHD and NIMH jointly funded a Data Coordinating Center (DCC) for both the CPEA and STAART Networks. The DCC—at DM-STAT, Inc.—provided data management and statistical support, coordinated and facilitated communication among the researchers, and established a common measures database for both Networks.
STAART and CPEA Networks were merged into the trans-NIH Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) Program in 2007 as a way for the NIH to better coordinate and intensify its research on autism. The ACE Program uses lessons learned from the CPEA and STAART Networks and includes both research centers and research networks focused on determining the causes and best treatments of autism.

Topic Areas

Areas of research for CPEA and STAART investigators included (but were not limited to) studies of:

  • Effectiveness of the digestive hormone secretin for treatment of autism
  • Genetic similarities between affected and unaffected siblings
  • Executive function and language in autism
  • Gluten- and casein-free diets for improving behavioral symptoms of autism
  • Safety and efficacy of drug interventions for autism, including fluoxitine and citalopram
  • Early-life characteristics of autism

For more details about the CPEA's accomplishments, see

In addition, the CPEANetwork supported the following collaborative projects through the Network sites. Please note that all of these projects ended in 2007. This information is provided for reference only.

  • Cognitive Profiles in Children with Autism, led by Helen Tager-Flusberg, Ph.D., at Boston University
  • Cognitive Profiles in Preschool Aged Children with Autism, led by Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., University of Washington; Sally Rogers, Ph.D., University of California, Davis; Marian Sigman, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles
  • DNA Collection from Autism Probands, led by the CPEA Genetic Subcommittee
  • Effectiveness of Secretin for Autism, led by Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., University of Washington
  • Executive Functions in Autism, led by William McMahon, M.D., University of Utah
  • Genetics Sibling Linkage Study of Autism, led by Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., University of Washington
  • Head Circumference in Autism, led by William McMahon, M.D., University of Utah
  • HOX Gene and Autism, led by Nancy Minshew, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh; Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., University of Washington
  • Language Function in Autism, led by Helen Tager-Flusberg, Ph.D., at Boston University
  • Regression and Vaccines in Autism, led by University of Michigan in collaboration with Yale University
  • Study of Porcine Secretin Treatment of Autism, led by University of California, Irvine (Affiliated Program); funded by the Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders (MIND) Institute

For more information on selected STAART studies, visit

Former Sites

Program abstracts for sites that participated in CPEA and STAART are listed below. Many of these continue as ACE Program sites.



More Information

Last Updated Date: 11/30/2012
Last Reviewed Date: 11/30/2012
Vision National Institutes of Health Home BOND National Institues of Health Home Home Storz Lab: Section on Environmental Gene Regulation Home Machner Lab: Unit on Microbial Pathogenesis Home Division of Intramural Population Health Research Home Bonifacino Lab: Section on Intracellular Protein Trafficking Home Lilly Lab: Section on Gamete Development Home Lippincott-Schwartz Lab: Section on Organelle Biology