Ambitious Israeli research that should lead to better diagnosis and treatment of autism has received a massive investment of 40 million shekels ($ 13 million) to accelerate the project.
The Canada-Israel Azrieli Foundation made the largest donation ever for an autism infrastructure project in Israel to the Israel National Autism Research Center. The center is the result of a collaboration between scientists from Ben-Gurion University in the Negev and clinicians from Soroka University Medical Center, both in Beer Sheva.
The investment will reinforce Israel’s importance in autism research internationally, as a mass of important studies will be generated, center director Professor Ilan Dinstein said.
“Our center is extremely unique from an international perspective,” he told The Times of Israel. “Very few countries in the world have this type of research infrastructure with its unique ability to follow children longitudinally and determine who is improving and who is not.
“We expect our studies to have an impact on health policy in Israel and around the world. “
The center was renamed the Azrieli National Center for Autism and Neurodevelopment Research in recognition of the donation and to recognize that its mission goes beyond autism to other neurodevelopmental conditions.
Its flagship project is a database that contains a wealth of information – provided with parental consent – on the challenges and progress of Israeli children with autism, which aims to help experts better understand best practices in diagnosis and treatment. processing.
It currently has information on 1,200 children out of around 20,000 children with autism in the country. With the new funding, it is expected to reach around 6,000 children, which is enough to generate research with a very strong foundation and strong international impact, Dinstein said.
“Our vision is to improve diagnosis and treatment, and having a large cohort of people providing many types of data is very valuable for that,” said Dinstein.
“Previous research on different aspects of autism often used data from different samples, making it difficult to connect results between studies. For example, it is unclear whether a study’s genetic results are related. behavioral results from another study.
“To connect the dots, we collect a range of data from the same children: everything from genetics and biobank data to behavior and video and audio recordings. This dramatically increases the value of the data and allows geneticists and psychologists to work together and see how their findings relate. “
One conclusion from the current database has been the importance of early diagnosis.
“We have shown in studies over the past few years that early diagnosis is important for the best outcomes and have found that children diagnosed before the age of two and a half are three times more likely to improve their baseline autistic systems. in a year or two, that’s a clear example of how this type of research can impact policy, ”Dinstein said.
He said research has shown that autism is actually a family of multiple disorders, with a variety of symptoms caused by different reasons.
“The big challenge is figuring out how many types of autism exist, how to best identify them early on, and most importantly, which interventions work best for each type,” said Dinstein. “To determine this, scientists need to partner with clinicians and study large numbers of children with autism over long periods of time.
“In order to make informed decisions about health policy for autism, you need to know what works for which children and we will be able to provide data and analysis for those decisions that do not exist today. “