December 14, 2007

National group names VU to Autism Treatment Network

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Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D.

National group names VU to Autism Treatment Network

The nation's leading autism advocacy organization is funding Vanderbilt University Medical Center to become one of the new Autism Treatment Network (ATN) sites — an elite designation in the field of autism treatment and research.

Autism Speaks announced Wednesday the approval of $450,000 over three years for Vanderbilt as part of its expansion from five sites to 15 across the United States and Canada.

ATN treatment and research centers are dedicated to improving medical care for children and adolescents with autism.

"Being part of the national Autism Treatment Network will facilitate our naturally collaborative nature in the Medical Center to bring the highest level of care across medical disciplines for children with autism and their families,” said Pat Levitt, Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development (VKC).

“We expect that our initiative will help families in their continuing struggles with the medical and behavioral complexities of autism."

Participating institutions benefit from access to standardized protocols and assessments, a national database, and a community of autism physicians and behavioral specialists who will develop and implement empirically derived treatment practices. Areas of emphasis include gastroenterology, genetics and sleep disorders.

Vanderbilt will also have the ability to submit research proposals that utilize the ATN database, which provides for high quality data collection on well-characterized individuals across a variety of disciplines and for the development of treatment practice parameters.

Data from 100 individuals from each site will be added to the database each year.

The original ATN institutions are Columbia University, University of Washington, Baylor College of Medicine, Oregon Health Sciences University, and Massachusetts General Hospital.

“Developing common standards of medical care across 15 sites will allow us to get answers to the questions parents ask about their children's care much more quickly,” said James Perrin, M.D., director of ATN's Clinical Coordinating Center and director of General Pediatrics for Massachusetts General Hospital for Children.

Principal investigators for Vanderbilt are Wendy Stone, Ph.D., director of VKC's Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD), and Beth Malow, M.D., director of the Vanderbilt Sleep Disorders Center.

“Not only will the ATN offer a valuable service to families in our community, but it also will be instrumental in developing evidence-based assessment and treatment protocols that will accelerate our understanding of autism and its medical management,” Stone said.

ATN sites provide patients and families with access to a team of specialists that span the Vanderbilt medical community.

A significant strength of Vanderbilt's application was the ability to provide integrated and coordinated care in a single location — the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.

“The ATN will bring together talented individuals from many disciplines — psychology, pediatrics, psychiatry, neurology and others — who share the common goal of creating standards of care for the diagnosis and treatment of children with autism spectrum disorders,” said Malow, an associate professor of Neurology and VKC investigator.

“I am very excited to be part of this mission and to see our Vanderbilt ATN site grow and develop.”