PITTSBURGH, Jan. 27 – UPMC has received $460,000 in funding from Autism Speaks to continue its participation as an Autism Treatment Network (ATN) site. The three-year foundation grant supports comprehensive diagnosis and medical evaluation for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The local site is a collaboration among the Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders at UPMC, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh Center for Excellence in Autism Research.
“We are extremely pleased that Autism Speaks has recognized the past efforts of the Pittsburgh ATN site by awarding our program with an additional three years of funding,” said Benjamin Handen, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry, pediatrics, psychology and education at Pitt and principal investigator of the Pittsburgh site. “Over 230 families have enrolled locally, which attests to the level of interest that the ATN has generated.”
The ATN is a group of 17 hospitals and medical centers in the U.S. and Canada, dedicated to improving medical care for children and adolescents with ASD and to standardizing the care those individuals receive. The ATN’s multi-disciplinary approach includes collaboration among specialists in areas including neurology, developmental pediatrics, child psychiatry, psychology, gastroenterology, genetics, metabolic disorders and sleep disorders. The network aims to develop common clinical standards for medical care for individuals with ASD and to increase the pool of autism medical specialists through trainee mentorship and outreach to community-based physicians. As part of this effort, families receiving care at the sites can participate in a data registry that tracks children and adolescents receiving ongoing care. The information is a crucial part of developing the evidence to create and substantiate clinical standards. The ATN has enrolled more than 3,200 families during the past three years.
The Pittsburgh site will be led by Dr. Handen, in partnership with Cynthia Johnson, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics, psychiatry and education at Pitt and director of the Autism Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, and Nancy Minshew, M.D., professor of psychiatry and neurology at Pitt and director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Excellence in Autism Research.
Autism is a complex brain disorder that disrupts a person’s ability to communicate and develop social relationships, often accompanied by extreme behavioral challenges. Like most non-acquired brain disorders, autism is a multi-organ system disorder. Sleep disorders, gastrointestinal dysfunction and seizures occur in 30 to 40 percent of individuals with ASD. Detection and accurate diagnosis, though much improved, still vary widely by geographic area, socioeconomic status and ethnic origin. Currently, treatments help but fall considerably short of a cure. Those in rural areas and those who are poor often have little access to high-quality services for ASD.
Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC (WPIC) is considered to be one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities and one of the world’s leading centers for research and treatment of mental health disorders. WPIC houses the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and is the flagship of UPMC Behavioral Health, the psychiatric specialty division of UPMC.