Updates to SFARI’s requests for grant applications for 2023

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As in past years, SFARI’s goal remains to fund transformative research in support of our mission: to improve the understanding, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) by funding innovative research of the highest quality and relevance. In serving this mission, we seek to strike a balance between funding novel and creative research projects conceived by our investigators as well as funding continuing work on topics in high-priority areas identified by SFARI. In 2023, we will hold two calls for Pilot Awards and will reissue the Human Cognitive and Behavioral Science RFA and the Genomics of ASD RFA. We will also issue a call for projects that integrate the study of ASD-relevant behaviors across human and non-human species.

Updates to the 2023 Pilot Award Program

The goal of the Pilot RFA remains to provide early support for conceptually novel, exploratory, high-risk and potentially high-impact projects that would be unlikely to be supported by other sources of funding. This funding mechanism is particularly relevant for investigators who are new to the autism field, though we encourage those new to the field to consult with experts in autism research to ensure their projects are relevant to the human condition.

In 2022, we funded many promising projects through a single iteration of the Pilot RFA. In 2023, we plan to issue two calls for the Pilot RFA, both to increase flexibility in timing for investigators, but also to allow investigators to respond to reviewer critiques and submit revised applications within a single year. Such revised applications may be competitive in subsequent rounds of review. We will, however, be imposing a limit of three on the number of times a particular project can be submitted for consideration.

Projects proposing cognitive and behavioral research solely with human participants should continue to be submitted to the Human Cognitive and Behavioral Science RFA, rather than the Pilot Award RFA. Projects proposing work in humans as well as a non-human species should be submitted, if within scope, to a new Cross-Species Studies RFA that will be launched in 2023 (see below). SFARI will also launch a third iteration of the Genomics of ASD RFA (see below). Projects that are a better fit for this RFA should be submitted when the 2023 Genomics of ASD RFA opens next summer.

Investigators who are unsure of which of the RFAs planned in 2023 would be the best fit for their project can contact sciencerfa@simonsfoundation.org for further information.

2023 Winter Pilot Award RFA opens October 17, 2022
Application deadline: January 12, 2023

2023 Summer Pilot Award RFA opens June 2023
Application deadline: September 14, 2023

The Human Cognitive and Behavioral Science RFA

SFARI recognizes the need for research that characterizes and parses the phenotypic heterogeneity of autism, that provides new tools for the quantification of autistic behaviors and that elucidates the cognitive foundations of autism. As such, we issued the investigator-initiated Human Cognitive and Behavioral Science RFA in both 2021 and 2022 to leverage recent advances in cognitive neuroscience, digital phenotyping and quantitative behavioral analysis, with the ultimate goal of identifying biologically relevant ASD subgroups and phenotypes. This research will not only inform translational efforts and clinical research, but it will also inform neurobiological research of the underlying mechanisms that cause autism including those implicated by known ASD-associated genetic variants. The 2023 Human Cognitive and Behavioral Science RFA will include two tracks, as it did in 2022: one for early-stage projects focused on demonstrating feasibility and establishing proof-of-concept validity and another for more mature projects that are ready for larger scale deployment and likely to yield concrete generalizable conclusions.

More details about the 2023 Human Cognitive and Behavioral RFA and the application process will be available early next year. Details from last year’s RFA can be found here.

RFA opens February 2023
Application deadline: May 4, 2023

Cross-Species Studies of Autism RFA

SFARI has long supported studies in humans (including in the Human Cognitive and Behavioral Science RFA, see above) and in non-human animals, with both focused on improving our understanding of ASD. However, as discussed at a workshop in 2018 and in many venues since then, improving coordination of the research performed in humans and in model organisms would greatly benefit ASD research (as well as other areas of psychiatric research). Studies in animals seeking to elucidate the neural mechanisms underlying behavior are more likely to be relevant to the human condition if the phenotypes under study in animals are known to be conserved in humans and germane to ASD. Conversely, studies of neural mechanisms and behavior in humans are likely to be enriched by incorporation of novel quantitative methods and analytic tools used in studies of non-human animals. Grants awarded through this RFA are intended to support inter-disciplinary teams of PIs with expertise in both human and non-human animal research to perform integrated cross-species studies to advance our understanding of ASD-relevant behaviors and their underlying neurobiological mechanisms, with the potential for developing novel biomarkers or interventions. For animal researchers interested in applying to this RFA who do not have an existing collaboration with someone who studies humans with ASD, SFARI may be able to help identify appropriate and interested potential collaborators. To allow potential applicants ample time to identify appropriate collaborators and conceptualize their projects, we are publishing this RFA call now; we will begin accepting applications in April 2023.

RFA opens April 2023
Applications deadline: June 15, 2023

Genomics of ASD RFA

Similar to the Genomics of ASD RFAs of the past two years, SFARI is planning to launch an RFA broadly covering the areas of autism genetics and genomics, integrative analysis of multi-omic autism data sets with a potential emphasis on biological convergence, functional analysis of autism associated genetic variants, and development of genetic therapies. As in 2022, we will offer an Explorer and Expansion track, for smaller proof of concept and larger mature projects building upon solid preliminary evidence, respectively.

RFA opens August 2023
Application deadline: October 19, 2023

Additional information

Over the next few months, we will be providing more information about our planned targeted initiatives via SFARI.org and the SFARI newsletter. To receive updates about SFARI news and funding opportunities, please subscribe to our newsletter. You can also read more about SFARI’s Scientific Perspectives here. In the meantime, we welcome your feedback on the scientific priorities and procedures we should consider at sciencerfa@simonsfoundation.org.

We are excited to continue the success of our ongoing RFA programs and add new perspectives this year. We look forward to working with all of you in the coming year.

RFA Scope Application Opens Applications Due
Winter Pilot Conceptually novel, exploratory, high-risk and potentially high-impact projects studying ASD (not in human subjects) October 17, 2022 January 12, 2023
Human Cognitive and Behavioral Science Studies in humans to produce foundational knowledge about the neurobehavioral heterogeneity of ASD by quantifying cognitive and behavioral phenotypes February 28, 2023 May 4, 2023
Cross-Species Studies of Autism Coordinated cross-species (human and non-human) studies of ASD-relevant behaviors and their underlying neurobiological mechanisms April 5, 2023 June 15, 2023
Summer Pilot Conceptually novel, exploratory, high-risk and potentially high-impact projects studying ASD (not in human subjects) June 7, 2023 September 14, 2023
Genomics of ASD Studies that improve our understanding of genetic risk and its molecular and cellular consequences across the autism spectrum to provide a foundation for the development of targeted “genetics informed” therapies August 8, 2023 October 19, 2023
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