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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 12:10 GMT
Cash for autism research
People with autism can be withdrawn
Ministers are to invest an extra 2.5m into research into autism.

Health Minister Jacqui Smith told a conference on autism at the King's Fund in London that the funds are being given to the Medical Research Council (MRC).

The MRC made a series recommendations on the way future research should be carried out in a report into autism published last year.

A top priority was for more active involvement of lay people such as people with autism, parents and charities.

The new research will also focus on large population studies to examine the effect of genetics and environmental factors.

Scientists will also examine the long-term effects of autism and other related disorders.

However, the cash will not be used to examine the highly disputed link between autism and the MMR vaccine.

Life-long problem

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to other people.

The number of people diagnosed with autism has increased sharply in recent years.

But the MRC has warned that this may in part be due to raised awareness of the condition.

It is thought that many factors may play a role in causing autism. At present, it is thought that genetics may be the most significant factor.

Ms Smith said: "Autism is one of the least understood but most frightening and difficult of conditions.

"We are very keen to ensure that the fruits of both ongoing and new research are spread quickly to policy makers, practitioners, researchers and lay people."

Long way to go

Professor Sir George Radda, MRC chief executive, welcomed the extra funding.

He said: "The MRC Review of Autism Research published in December identified some successes in research into autism but there is still a long way to go to better understand these disorders.

"The MRC is currently spending some 5 million on research into autism. The extra money will allow us to fund even more research proposals.

"Our report identified current gaps in knowledge about autism and we hope that our findings will stimulate the research community to develop proposals that address the key issues."

Judith Barnard, of the National Autistic Society, said: "The NAS believes that this money should be available as ring-fenced funding for several years to come as there is a vast amount of work needed to understand this complex spectrum condition which affects many more people than previously thought.

"In particular, the area of physiology and infections was seen to be the weakest in terms of what was known about it, and the work that had been undertaken on it.

"It is increasingly clear, however, that physiological, pathological and immunological factors play an important role in this condition.

"Autism spectrum disorders are strongly genetic but not wholly so. This means that environmental factors are also involved, but these remain a mystery and urgent research is needed to look at potential candidates."

See also:

26 Jun 01 | Health
Autism 'may have quadrupled'
25 Apr 01 | Health
Possible autism test for newborns
04 Apr 01 | A-B
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