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Video: NIH director has big plans for autism research

by  /  19 October 2009

It’s been just over two months since Francis Collins stepped in as the new head of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Collins was head of the National Human Genome Research Institute for 15 years, and led the high-profile Human Genome Project, so he is no stranger to the limelight. But as head of the NIH, in charge of a $31 billion annual budget, he is a powerful man with big ambitions.

At the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Chicago today, Collins told a packed hall that one of his major goals will be “to tackle questions that have the word ‘all’ in them”: for example, what are all of the protein interactions in a cell, and what are all the ion channels in a given neuron?

In particular, Collins spent a large part of his talk highlighting recent research on autism, “a disease of great public concern and great scientific puzzlement,” and the related fragile X syndrome. He said that high-throughput technology has already identified more than 50 variations, both rare and common, linked to autism spectrum disorders. He added that $30 million dollars of funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be used for full sequencing of target genes and, for a few individuals with the disorder, whole-genome sequencing.

Collins also talked to SFARI in more detail about the agency’s upcoming plans for “beefing up” its autism research, including more than $100 million each year in grants for the field.