2023 Cross-Species Studies of ASD — Request for Applications

Grants awarded through the Cross-Species Studies of ASD request for applications (RFA) are intended to support multi-disciplinary teams of PIs with expertise in both human and animal research to perform coordinated 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.

Applicants may request a maximum of $400,000, inclusive of 20 percent indirect costs, for each year of funding over a period of two (2) to three (3) years. 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 on April 5, 2023.

Application Available:
Important Dates
  • Application Available:
  • Application Deadline:
  • Award Notification:
  • Award Start Date:
    Awards may begin as early as January 2024, but we encourage PIs to select a project start date that best accommodates the needs of their project. Funds are expected to be expended as requested during each annual budget period. Projects must begin on the first of the month.
Important Dates
  • Application Available:
  • Application Deadline:
  • Award Notification:
  • Award Start Date:
    Awards may begin as early as January 2024, but we encourage PIs to select a project start date that best accommodates the needs of their project. Funds are expected to be expended as requested during each annual budget period. Projects must begin on the first of the month.
Contact Info
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Important Dates
  • Application Available:
  • Application Deadline:
  • Award Notification:
  • Award Start Date:
    Awards may begin as early as January 2024, but we encourage PIs to select a project start date that best accommodates the needs of their project. Funds are expected to be expended as requested during each annual budget period. Projects must begin on the first of the month.
Contact Info

SFARI Mission

The mission of the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) is to improve the understanding, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) by funding innovative research of the highest quality and relevance.

Background and Objective

SFARI has long supported studies in humans (including in the Human Cognitive and Behavioral Science RFA) 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 and neuroscience research, refs 1–2). 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 the Cross-Species Studies of ASD request for applications (RFA) are intended to support multi-disciplinary teams of PIs with expertise in both human and animal research to perform coordinated 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.

Scientific Scope and Priorities

The Cross-Species Studies of ASD RFA will support research on ASD-relevant behaviors and their underlying neurobiological mechanisms conducted in parallel across human and non-human animals. Because the focus is on translation across species, in addition to being relevant to ASD, the behaviors under study should be conserved across species and able to be measured objectively and quantitatively. Three domains SFARI recognizes as fitting these criteria include sensory function, motor function and sleep, although other behaviors will be considered if there is a strong argument that they meet these criteria. All three of these domains are recognized as being affected in many people with ASD (see refs 3–6 for background), with sensory atypicalities now included in the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for autism. Competitive applications will not only study the same general behavioral domains in humans and non-human animals, but be able to measure truly analogous behaviors in humans and model animals, e.g., by aligning the tasks used and/or tapping into a shared computational construct in both species (see ref 7 for an example study of this type from another field).

Beyond measuring behaviors in parallel across species, special emphasis is placed on furthering our understanding of the underlying neurobiological mechanisms with an eye towards developing novel biomarkers or interventions. Therefore, behaviors for which there is evidence of evolutionary conservation of such mechanisms, e.g., at the circuit level, will be prioritized. Studies in animals should take advantage of the use of more invasive techniques that would not be possible in humans, yet attempt to link findings from such techniques with analogous measurements in humans, e.g., LFP/EEG, or mesoscale Ca2+ imaging/fMRI (ref 8).

In addition to aligning measurements of behavior and circuit function across species, we encourage applicants to carefully consider other traits of their study subjects, both human and non-human species, including age, sex, and genotype or genetic background. While there is no rigorous way to model “idiopathic” ASD in non-human animals, we encourage applicants to carefully consider and rationalize comparisons of humans with idiopathic and/or known genetic causes of ASD with genetically modified animal models.

Collaboration Across Funded Groups

In addition to ensuring that researchers carrying out studies in animals and humans are working in parallel within each funded project, SFARI will facilitate coordination across projects funded through this RFA. While the details are yet to be determined, these will include periodic meetings among funded investigators to discuss challenges and share research findings. We hope that these serve as organic collaborative opportunities, with funded groups sharing protocols, data and reagents with other consortium members and SFARI throughout the grant period. Adherence to the open-science ethos of the research consortium will be an important consideration in yearly assessments. Costs associated with attending any SFARI-initiated meetings will be covered separately by the Simons Foundation.

Level and Duration of Funding

Applicants may request a maximum of $400,000, inclusive of 20 percent indirect costs, for each year of funding over a period of two (2) to three (3) years. Allowable Indirect costs to the primary institution for subcontracts are not included in the total budget threshold (see grant policies). We encourage investigators to take advantage of the flexibility in budget and duration, tailoring the scope of the award as appropriate for their specific aims. As with all SFARI-funded projects, it is at Simons Foundation’s discretion to modify final budgets as needed.

Human Participant Recruitment and Sample Sizes

Given the heterogeneity and multifactorial causes of ASD, SFARI places a premium on the use of well-characterized and sufficiently powered cohorts for studies in humans. To facilitate recruitment of cohorts with well-characterized ASD and associated neurodevelopmental disabilities, SFARI has developed the Research Match program. Research Match is a robust in-house program to help investigators recruit participants from Simons collections, including SPARK and Simons Searchlight. SPARK is an ASD-defined cohort of more than 100,000 recontactable autistic individuals and their family members, with more than 50,000 of whom have supporting phenotyping data and complete exome sequencing data. Simons Searchlight includes individuals carrying mutations in 153 genes or 23 copy number variants for which family, medical, developmental and behavioral information has been collected. The 1,500-plus participants with rare disorders in Simons Searchlight can be recruited for additional studies through SFARI Research Match and may be of particular interest for comparison to animal models with mutations in the same genes. RFA applicants are strongly encouraged, but not required, to use Research Match as part of their participation recruitment strategy.

Review Process

Applications will be evaluated by the SFARI science team, with a subset selected for further evaluation by an external review panel. Competitive applications will be invited to present their proposal to the SFARI science team and invited scientists.

Eligibility

All applicants and key collaborators must hold a Ph.D., M.D. or equivalent degree and have a faculty position or the equivalent at a college, university, medical school or other research facility.

Principal investigators (PIs) who do not have substantial expertise with ASD participants should include a close collaborator with such expertise on their grant application (e.g., multi-PI application). For animal researchers interested in applying to this RFA who do not have an existing collaboration with someone who studies humans with ASD, please reach out to SFARI staff via sciencerfa@simonsfoundation.org; we may be able to help identify appropriate and interested potential collaborators.

SFARI recognizes the importance of diverse viewpoints for scientific advancement. As such, SFARI encourages the inclusion of researchers who span career stages and groups historically underrepresented in science.

Applications may be submitted by domestic and foreign nonprofit organizations; public and private institutions, such as colleges, universities, hospitals, laboratories and units of state and local government; and eligible agencies of the federal government. There are no citizenship or country requirements.

Instructions for Submission

Applications must be submitted via the Simons Award Manager (SAM), which will open for applications on April 5, 2023. Applications are due by June 15, 2023. Please click on the Funding Opportunities icon and navigate to the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative — Cross-Species Studies RFA call. Click the Create Application button to begin. Applications should be started and submitted under the applicant’s own account in SAM.

Informational Sessions for Potential Applicants

To answer questions about this RFA, SFARI will hold an informational Zoom meeting on January 23, 2023, at 12:00 p.m. EST. This webinar will also include breakout sessions in which interested researchers may be able to identify or connect with potential collaborators. More information and registration for the webinar will be available soon.

Our Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Many of the greatest ideas and discoveries come from a diverse mix of minds, backgrounds and experiences. The Simons Foundation is committed to grantmaking that inspires and supports greater diversity and inclusiveness by cultivating a funding environment that ensures representation of all identities and differences and equitable access to information and resources for all applicants and grantees.

The Simons Foundation provides equal opportunities to all applicants for funding without regard to race, religion, color, age, sex, pregnancy, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic disposition, neurodiversity, disability, veteran status or any other protected category under federal, state and local law. The foundation also funds programs directed at supporting scientists from disadvantaged backgrounds or underrepresented groups, often working closely with professional societies and other funding agencies.

References

  1. Badre D., Frank M.J., and Moore C.I. (2015). Interactionist Neuroscience. Neuron 88, 855–860.
  2. Nour M.M., Liu Y., and Dolan R.J. (2022). Functional neuroimaging in psychiatry and the case for failing better. Neuron 110(16): 2524-2544.
  3. Robertson C.E. and Baron-Cohen S. Sensory perception in autism. Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 2017 Nov.; 18(11):671-684.
  4. Rujuta B. Wilson R.B., Enticott P.G., and Rinehart N.J. Motor development and delay: advances in assessment of motor skills in autism spectrum disorders. Curr. Opin. Neurol. 2018 April; 31(2): 134–139.
  5. Zampella C.J., Wang L.A., Haley M., Hutchinson A.G., and de Marchen A. Motor Skill Differences in Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Clinically Focused Review. Current Psychiatry Reports (2021) 23: 64.
  6. Olivia J. Veatch O.J., Maxwell-Horn A.C., and Malow B.A. Sleep in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Curr. Sleep Med. Rep. 2015 June; 1(2): 131–140.
  7. Barron H.C., Reeve H.M., Koolschijn R.S., Perestenko P.V., Shpektor A.,
    Nili H., Rothaermel R., Campo-Urriza N., O’Reilly J.X., Bannerman D.M., Behrens T.E.J., and Dupret D. (2020). Neuronal Computation Underlying Inferential Reasoning in Humans and Mice. Cell 183, 228–243.
  8. Barron H.C., Mars R.B., Dupret D., Lerch J.P., and Sampaio-Baptista C. (2021). Cross-species neuroscience: Closing the explanatory gap. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. B Biol. Sci. 376, 20190633.
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Important Dates
  • Application Available:
  • Application Deadline:
  • Award Notification:
  • Award Start Date:
    Awards may begin as early as January 2024, but we encourage PIs to select a project start date that best accommodates the needs of their project. Funds are expected to be expended as requested during each annual budget period. Projects must begin on the first of the month.
Contact Info
Read More
Important Dates
  • Application Available:
  • Application Deadline:
  • Award Notification:
  • Award Start Date:
    Awards may begin as early as January 2024, but we encourage PIs to select a project start date that best accommodates the needs of their project. Funds are expected to be expended as requested during each annual budget period. Projects must begin on the first of the month.
Contact Info
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