Guess Who’s Exploring the Link between Autism and the Immune System

The Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative makes no secret of its interest in dual-purpose grantmaking. It wants to support research into the causes and treatment of autism, but it also wants to ensure that the research complements "the foundation’s work in other basic sciences." Though it’s focused on autism, it takes a big picture approach. That’s why its latest award announcement is so interesting: a sharply focused autism-related mission with big potential for applications in other realms of research.

Recently, SFARI announced an RFA for a grant called the Innate Immune System Award. Brand-new and highly specialized, this award promises up to $1 million per year over the course of three years for selected grantees—not exactly chump change. So it's the kind of thing anyone engaged in autism research should want to know more about. This award, for research into the connection between a pregnant mother’s immune system activity and her fetus’s potential for developing autism, is a perfect example of the sort of activity SFARI loves best.

In the wide world of medical research, the connection between a pregnant mother and her fetus is not well understood— just check the rapidly vacillating attitudes on drinking alcohol while pregnant for proof of that. While increasing the understanding of this connection may mean big things for autism, SFARI hopes it could also mean big things for other kinds of medical research. This could be their next big grantmaking focus, or a sign of where they're heading as an organization. SFARI always seems to be taking a broad view, in a way that few other foundations do. Most have an almost myopic focus on their area of choice— this can be a good thing, to be sure, but SFARI is always looking across disciplines, searching for translational research, connections, and networking possibilities. This latest award is just another example.