Behind SFARI, Fast-Growing Financial Mover in Autism Research

Next to Autism Speaks, The Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) is one of the largest sources for autism research funding in the US, and it is growing exponentially. In 2007, its founding year, SFARI’s budget was $1.1 million; the number grew to just over $5 million in 2009, and by 2010 it had increased to $17.4 million.

One of SFARI’s primary concerns is a project called The Simons Simplex Collection (SSC). The SCC is a "permanent repository of genetic samples from 2,700 families, each of which has one child affected with an autism spectrum disorder, and unaffected parents and siblings." SFARI runs the repository "in collaboration with 12 university-affiliated research clinics." In 2010, The Simons Foundation gave a total of $1.9 million in "operation site funding" to the SSC. (See Simons Foundation: Grants for Brain Research and Treatment).

That same year, SFARI gave close to $708,000 to the University of Missouri's Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. The money supported several studies published in 2010, including Micah O. Mazurek and Stephen M. Kanne's "Friendship and Internalizing Symptoms Among Children and Adolescents with ASD." Mazurek and Kanne’s study observes the difficulties encountered by children with autism attempting to cultivate and maintain friendships.

In addition to the psychologically-oriented projects like the one mentioned above, SFARI invests a great deal in genetic research laboratories like the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. In 2010, CSHL received more than $7 million from SFARI for several projects focusing on the genetic basis of autism. Of particular interest is research that involves the engineering of mice with specific genetic combinations that predispose them to autism. (Read SFARI director, Louis Reichardt's IP profile).

The study was conducted on $150,000 of SFARI money.

A recent freezer failure at a Harvard tissue storage center damaged 54 samples of brain tissue that belong to The Autism Tissue Program. The incident called attention to the need for more and better facilities to maintain and hold brain tissue. In an article on their site, SFARI scientific director Gerald Ficshbach announced that the organization is "committed to the effort," though it may cost upward of $1 million. Programs that are developing tissue holding centers like the one at UCDavis may hear some exciting news from SFARI in the near future for this reason.