Civitan Translational Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders Research Core

On April 2nd, the world will acknowledge World Autism Awareness Day, and millions across the globe will show support by updating their Facebook profile picture filter or by simply wearing the color blue.  For an organization that was founded on a desire and passion to do more for others, how can Civitans recognize this special day in a way that make a lasting impact for generations to come?

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects children in the United States at an increasingly growing rate. The recent uptick in diagnoses across the country, currently 1 in 68 children, could be attributed to the increased awareness of the disorder, thanks in part to days like World Autism Awareness Day. The question now is what are we doing to facilitate research efforts and to aid in the development of novel therapeutic approaches. 

Imagine a world where cancer was diagnosed as just cancer. A doctor gives a diagnosis to a patient and doesn’t provide any details beyond, “abnormal tissue growth within the body.” No specifics as far as where the growths are in the body, and there is only one type of treatment for all types, because, well, there aren’t any types. There’s just cancer. Imagine that one in 68 children have this catch-all diagnosis, and there are not enough clinics or clinical care providers to treat them.

This is just one analogy Dr. Craig M. Powell, Director of the Civitan International Research Center, gave when he described treatment plans for individuals living with autism. “You don’t give one drug to treat melanoma and the same drug to treat pancreatic cancer, and the same drug to treat brain cancer,” he says, “You use different drugs to treat different cancers. They’re all growths that are abnormal in your body. Similarly, autism is multiple different disorders due to multiple different causes; they all likely require different treatments.”

Dr. Powell continues to describe this lack of individualized treatment for patients with autism as a “public health crisis.” One in which he and over 100 faculty members at UAB are actively addressing through formation of the Civitan Translational Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders Research Core.

“The vision is to give an opportunity for every person that comes through the Civitan International Research Center’s clinical care at UAB and Children’s of Alabama to participate in cutting-edge research, providing hope for the future on top of outstanding clinical care now,” Dr. Powell explains. “The goal is to bring everyone together by creating one database of clinical care and research information and one set of samples from those individuals.”

The Civitan Translational Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders Research Core will be a breakthrough in the field of autism and intellectual disorders research. “We know that there are probably hundreds of different disease mutations that cause different flavors of autism, and it’s likely that each different flavor of autism has a different biology, a different cause, and a different potential therapy,” says Dr. Powell, “And so really the next push is for individualized, personalized, precision medicine for every child with the syndrome that we call autism or the syndrome that we call intellectual disability.”

In addition to identifying causes and treatment plans on an individual level, the Research Core will also serve to enhance existing efforts at the CIRC. Currently, the CIRC provides a comprehensive lineup of services that span across multiple disciplines for patients and their families. “The CIRC has done an amazing job, with the support of Civitan International, in establishing clinical care in multiple disciplines in psychiatry, psychology, pediatric neurology, physical, occupational, and speech therapies, audiology, and many other disciplines,” explains Dr. Powell. “We also have been doing a great job of helping shepherd children through the normal everyday medical care, like when they go to the dentist,” he continues. “It can be very stressful for some to have new experiences; having psychologists and other providers support them just to go to the dentist is something that I think is an incredible challenge for so many on the autism spectrum.”

A project of this magnitude will take time and resources to bring to fruition. Dr. Powell has already put plans in motion by recruiting a team to facilitate operations of the Research Core. To have the Civitan name attached to such a revolutionary endeavor is an honor that is attributed to every Civitan who has felt and acted on their desire and passion to do more for others.

On Tuesday, April 2nd Civitan International will partner with Blackbaud to recognize World Autism Awareness Day through a special day of online giving. On this day only, Blackbaud will waive traditional credit card processing fees so that we can provide maximum benefits from every contribution.