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World’s largest autism project brings hope for effective treatments

NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) is supporting EU-AIMS (European Autism Interventions—A Multicentre Study for Developing New Medications), a 5-year project designed to accelerate the development of safe, effective treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

ASD affects about 1 in 100 people worldwide, and there are currently no effective treatments available. Instead, individuals with ASD are treated with drugs developed for other conditions.

The EU-AIMS project is a unique partnership between leading academics from 14 European Centres of Excellence; major global drug companies including Roche, Eli Lilly, Janssen and Servier; and patient organisations such as Autism Speaks, a world leading autism charity.

Through this partnership, EU AIMS has made huge strides in identifying the biological causes of ASD and developing innovative approaches to speed up the development of more effective treatments. Key achievements include the creation of a unique European Autism Biobank with the means to openly share scientific data worldwide, and the development of a clinical and training network with over 92 sites in 37 European countries.

This has led to several important discoveries including the finding that some of the brain changes associated with ASD can be reversed, and that ASD affects men’s and women’s brains differently.

Supported by the European Medicines Agency, EU-AIMS has established some of the largest clinical trials networks for ASD treatment to date. One particularly exciting trial is the Longitudinal European Autism Project (LEAP) which combines genetic testing, brain scans, cognitive testing and clinical assessments to identify distinct ASD subtypes. This will enable doctors to tailor treatments to an individual’s particular type of ASD.

Researchers have also been studying individuals with monogenic forms (caused by a single gene) of ASD to develop treatments to address what causes the condition, rather than just the symptoms.

EU AIMS has been taking the lead in coordinating a global effort to tackle ASD—dramatically improving our understanding of the causes of this complex mental health disorder. The project’s breakthroughs are based on involving patient organisations and working closely with people with ASD, their families, carers, and supporters.