Welcome to the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) website, SFARI.org. Launched in 2006 as a scientific initiative within the Simons Foundation’s suite of programs, the mission of SFARI is to improve the understanding, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders by funding innovative research of the highest quality and relevance.
In a remarkably short period of time, SFARI has created an unrivaled legacy of leadership in the autism research community and, more generally, in the genetics and neuroscience community. Guided by its mission to support the very best science to understand autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and to promote evidence-based care for those living with the condition, SFARI has demonstrated the profoundly important role that foundations play in advancing science. With an annual budget of approximately $100 million, SFARI convenes scientists to identify new and powerful approaches to understanding and treating ASD, supports a robust grants program that funds high quality and innovative research on autism, and creates an array of shared resources, spanning from large cohorts to biological models and biospecimens, to databases and data analysis tools. Through its support of cohorts, SFARI partners with the autism community to identify the needs of individuals with ASD. These various initiatives and activities have been critical to advancing the field of autism research and care. I briefly describe each below, providing links to more detailed descriptions available on SFARI.org.
1. Workshops, meetings and advisory boards
Since 2003, when a roundtable meeting of scientists convened by the Simons Foundation to discuss the state of autism research served as the inspiration for its establishment, SFARI continues the tradition of convening scientists and autism community members through a variety of workshops and meetings. The ideas that emerge from these events advance the field of autism research and often give rise to new SFARI-funded initiatives. Descriptions of past events can be found here. SFARI also benefits from the expertise of its distinguished SFARI Scientific Advisory Board, through advisory boards for specific projects supported by SFARI, and through its scientific grant review panels.
2. Grants programs
SFARI currently supports over 300 investigators worldwide through a variety of funding mechanisms. With an initial focus on genetics, research supported by SFARI has resulted in the identification of more than 100 highly penetrant risk genes for ASD, highlighting the heterogeneity of the condition. In addition to continuing our work on the genetics of autism, SFARI supports research across the multiple dimensions required to build the foundation for future clinical interventions aimed at improving the lives of individuals with ASD — from cell biological and biochemical studies, to circuit neuroscience and cognitive and behavioral studies, to outcome studies and more. SFARI grant funding mechanisms include annual calls for pilot studies, as well as several targeted requests for applications aimed at addressing specific research priorities. Funding opportunities are announced here. A perspective outlining the views of the SFARI science team on the various scientific topics supported by the foundation is available here.
SFARI also funds early career training programs to bring outstanding and diverse scientists into the field of autism research. These include the Bridge to Independence Award, which facilitates the transition from postdoctoral fellowship to junior faculty, as well as the Supplement to Enhance Equity and Diversity (SEED) and Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) awards, which provide support to underrepresented-in-STEM postdoctoral fellows and undergraduates, respectively, within the laboratories of SFARI investigators.
3. Shared resources
Recognizing that data sharing accelerates research progress and the translation of scientific discoveries into clinical care, SFARI has invested in the generation of shared resources for use by autism researchers. These resources include large cohorts of well-characterized individuals with ASD or with specific genetic mutations associated with ASD, as well as databases that include clinical, phenotypic, genetic and neuroimaging data and biospecimens from SFARI collections and SFARI-funded projects. These include the Simons Simplex Collection, Simons Searchlight, SPARK and the Autism Inpatient Collection.
Through its Research Match program, researchers can apply to recruit individuals enrolled in SFARI cohorts into new research studies. SFARI also builds and hosts data analysis tools to interrogate genetic risk factors for autism and to allow researchers to explore genotypic and phenotypic data from SFARI cohorts. These cohorts and tools are complemented by a collection of biological resources created to facilitate laboratory studies of autism. These include induced pluripotent stem cells generated from individuals with autism, post-mortem human brain tissue, and genetically modified zebrafish, mouse and rat animal models of autism. More recently, and looking to the future, SFARI is also investing in efforts to evaluate potential novel therapeutics for autism. Information about SFARI shared resources is available here.
We at SFARI are committed to supporting the best science that addresses the many challenges posed by autism and related conditions, and we hope that SFARI.org is useful to you. The scientific staff and I welcome your input and your suggestions for new resources and directions that will help advance autism research.
Kelsey C. Martin, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, Simons Foundation Neuroscience Collaborations