The ACE program is an NIH-wide initiative that supports large-scale multidisciplinary studies on autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), with the goal of determining the disorders' causes and potential treatments.
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 throughout the country, all of whom work together on a single research question. The ACE program is funded through a combination of three grant mechanisms: the P50 for ACE centers and R01 and U01 for ACE networks.
The program receives support from NICHD's Intellectual and Developmental Disorders Branch, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 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, which was created in 1997 in response to a request from Congress to enhance the quality, pace, and coordination of NIH autism research. These institutes are also key members of the federal Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, which includes representatives from various agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 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 centralized NIMH Data Archive (NDA), which includes the 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.
Beginning in 2021, each ACE institution must now also adopt a specific Plan for Enhancing Diverse Perspectives (PEDP) as part of its proposed research project. The PEDP, an inclusion from the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative, requires each ACE institution to outline strategies to increase participation of women and individuals from traditionally underrepresented groups in the ACE biomedical, behavioral, and clinical workforce. Additionally, the PEDP is intended to increase the participation of underrepresented and underserved populations in research.
The ACE program was created in 2007 from the consolidation of NICHD's past efforts on autism research, the Collaborative Program of Excellence in Autism and the Studies to Advance Autism Treatment and Research Network.