The mission of the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) is to improve the understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) through support for innovative research of the highest quality and relevance.
To help advance this mission, SFARI has issued a request for applications for Maternal COVID-19 as a potential risk for autism: supplemental funding for ongoing pregnancy cohorts.
Several prospective pregnancy cohorts, across multiple continents, are being recruited during the COVID-19 pandemic. These cohorts afford the opportunity to better understand the impact of maternal infection and inflammation on risk for neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism. Prior animal studies suggest that the risk of adverse outcomes is related to specific T-cell sub-populations, which may be sensitized by the intestinal microbiome. SFARI believes that biospecimen collection in the pandemic pregnancy cohorts should include maternal blood for both peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and cytokine assays, as well as cord blood collection at birth. Consideration should also be given to collection of maternal stool specimens. Ideally, given the changes that can occur in cytokine and PBMC profiles through the course of pregnancy in response to infection and the presumed importance of fetal age in moderating the impact of maternal risk factors, biospecimens should be collected at multiple timepoints. It is critical that the collection of biospecimens be complemented by the tracking of families after delivery so that child neurodevelopmental outcomes can be determined at age 2 to 3 years.
Under this RFP, SFARI invites proposals for funding that will be used to extend biospecimen collection and post-natal family tracking in prospective pregnancy cohort studies. SFARI is offering this request for applications (RFA) because many of the cohorts that SFARI has queried collect maternal blood at only one or two timepoints, and almost none of the cohorts collect stool specimens. A majority of the cohorts lack child follow-up beyond a few months of age, though some are able to ascertain child outcomes through the use of medical registry data.
A total award period of three years is planned. SFARI anticipates that the budget for Year 1 would primarily support biospecimen collection, as well as processing and storage, if needed. The budgets for Years 2 and 3 would primarily support family tracking to ensure that they can be contacted for child clinical assessment at 2 to 3 years of age. Funding for Years 2 and 3 will be dependent on successful recruitment of participants and collection of biospecimens in Year 1.
For investigators who do not have sufficient biorepository capacity, SFARI is likely to offer centralized biospecimen processing and storage at a SFARI-approved repository in the United States. For biospecimens stored at a SFARI repository, SFARI will manage distribution of samples to qualified investigators. Investigators who require SFARI-managed storage are asked to specify whether storage in the United States is permitted by their study’s consent and by their national or other relevant regulations. Should storage of biospecimens at a SFARI facility not be allowed, applying investigators should provide detailed alternative plans.
SFARI encourages collaborative applications, as well as applications that leverage resources for biospecimen characterization and/or additional clinical characterization of the cohort participants. Awards made for projects that recruit at a single site will have a maximum budget of $250,000 over three years of funding, including 20 percent indirect costs. Projects that recruit at two or more sites may request a maximum budget up to $400,000, including indirect costs.
To be eligible, all applicants and key collaborators must hold a PhD, MD, or equivalent degree and have a faculty position or the equivalent at a college, university, medical school, or other research facility. In addition, eligible applicants must have independent lab space at their institution. Applications may be submitted by domestic and foreign nonprofit organizations, public and private institutions (colleges, universities, hospitals, laboratories, units of state and local government), and eligible agencies of the federal government. There are no citizenship or country requirements.
See the SFARI website for complete program guidelines and application instructions.