In a move that reflects the emergence of autism as a focus of concern to the scientific community, the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) will promote communication and facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration among scientists researching the disorder. The inaugural forum will be held on November 9-10, 2001 in San Diego, California, as a satellite event of the Society for Neuroscience Meeting. The conference is underwritten collaboratively by the Cure Autism Now Foundation, the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute and the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR).

Spearheaded by parent activists, the plight of children with autism has been brought to national and international awareness. The scientific community has responded; an increasing number of scientists are carrying out research into all facets of the disorder. As a result, IMFAR is expected to attract preeminent research scientists from around the world.

"Five years ago, the Neuroscience meeting had perhaps six presentations on autism. Suddenly in six short years, autism has its own meeting with over two hundred presentations," said Jonathan Shestack, co-founder of the Cure Autism Now Foundation.

"This is an amazing change and testimony to a very strong emerging field, an exponential growth in available funding and a tragic rise in incidence. We hope that this forum, the first of its kind, will lead to even greater awareness, better communication and collaboration and rapid development of treatments."

IMFAR's keynote presentations, slide and poster presentations, workshops and plenary sessions will highlight many different topics in autism, including structural imaging, molecular and genetic approaches, and epidemiological investigations. In addition, the conference will feature a "State-of-the-Science" symposium that will provide a broad overview of current knowledge and future directions on autism research, as well as a presentation of the Lifetime Award for Research on Autism posthumously to Dr. Donald Cohen, formerly Director of the Yale University Child Study Center, Chairman of the Department of Child Psychiatry, and Sterling Professor of Child Psychiatry, Pediatrics and Psychology.

"This is a period of long-overdue mobilization for autism research," said David G. Amaral, Ph.D., research director at the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute. "An increasing number of scientists are exploring the complexities of the disorder. This first-of-its-kind meeting, where we will share our findings, is a highlight in the short history of autism research. With the exchange of information at this conference now, and in the future, it is our hope that the pace and the successes of the scientific community in solving the pieces of the puzzle of this complicated disorder will be greatly enhanced."

Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder typically characterized by an inability to participate in normal social interactions, language and communication impairments, and stereotyped, repetitive behaviors. It is conservatively estimated that at least one in every 500 children have some form of autism; in one recent study, however, rates have been found to be as high as one in 150. There is currently no medical treatment or cure for autism, underscoring the importance of shared research and collaborative efforts to understand this debilitating disorder.

"Science offers the best hope for unlocking the secrets of autism, and parents are passing the baton to the scientific community to take ownership in forwarding the cause," said Prisca Chen Marvin, president of NAAR. "The unique complexity of this disorder requires a cross-disciplinary approach. IMFAR presents an excellent opportunity for scientists of different disciplines to share their knowledge and ideas, and will be an important step in determining where science needs to go in order to expedite finding the causes, treatment and, eventually, a cure."

For more information about the conference, visit IMFAR's virtual newsroom.

The Cure Autism Now Foundation is an organization of parents, physicians, and researchers, dedicated to promoting and funding research with direct clinical implications for treatment and a cure for autism. Since its founding in 1995 the Cure Autism Now Foundation has directed millions of dollars to support research projects and a crucial scientific resource - the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE). AGRE is the world's first collaborative gene bank that contains information on families with more than one child with autism.

Founded in 1998 as a unique interdisciplinary organization to study neurodevelopmental disorders, the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute, which stands for the Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders, is a collaboration of parents, community leaders, researchers, clinicians and volunteers. The institute aims to unravel the problems of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders by focusing on research, treatment and education.

The National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) was established in 1994 as the first nonprofit organization dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, effective treatment and ultimate cure of the autism spectrum disorders. Since its inception, NAAR has committed millions of dollars to researchers worldwide. NAAR was also instrumental in establishing, and continues to fund, the Autism Tissue Program, the first and only parent-led initiative to encourage donation and provide brain tissue for research into autism spectrum disorders.