National Institutes of Health $8.3 million grant will make Atlanta a new Autism Research Center of Excellence

By Maria Saporta

An Atlanta-based coalition of institutions will receive a grant of $8.3 million from the National Institutes of Health — creating a new Autism Research Center of Excellence, only one of three in the country.

Gov. Nathan Deal will announce the “transformational grant” on Thursday, Sept. 27 at 10:30 a.m. in the north wing of the Georgia State Capitol.

The grant only reinforces the work that is underway on autism research and treatment through an Atlanta coalition that includes the Marcus Autism Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the Department of Pediatrics at Emory University’s School of Medicine and the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory.

A driving force behind the coalition is Dr. Ami Klin, who relocated his research and his team from Yale University in January, 2011, also through an extensive team effort that included philanthropist Bernie Marcus, the Georgia Research Alliance, top state officials and leaders from Emory and Children’s Healthcare.

Klin is the principal investigator and director of the new Autism Center of Excellence. He also serves as director of the Marcus Autism Center, and he is a GRA eminent scholar and a professor of pediatrics in the Emory School of Medicine.

The ACE grant will study the risk and resilience for autism in infants and toddlers through fundamental research and new screening programs in early infancy.

The research program will seek to diagnose autism in children at an age as early as just a few months old to allow early intervention by parents and professionals to minimize the impact the disability has on children and adults.

It is estimated that one in every 88 children is affected by autism and related disorders nationally. The Marcus Autism Center, which worked with 5,676 children in 2011, is the largest autism center in the world by far, serving eight times as many children as other leading centers, Klin said.

At a talk to the Rotary Club of Atlanta on Monday, Klin said that Atlanta is positioned to become the leading hub in the country because of the collaboration that exists between all the various partners.

When he was at Yale, Klin had 69 members on his team. In less that two years, the Marcus Autism Center has a team of 182 clinicians and researchers.

The other two national centers receiving NIH grants are the University of California in Los Angeles and Boston University.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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