"The future of our world is in our children. Understanding how the brain develops is key to not only finding treatments and breakthrough discoveries in neurodevelopmental disorders, but it is also key to the future of our society and our world." – Naomi Azrieli, Chair and CEO, Azrieli Foundation
A Unique Undertaking – integrating autism care and the full spectrum of research
Autism is a complex multifaceted group of conditions, described by the umbrella term autism spectrum disorder. Understanding complex neurodevelopmental conditions like autism require a comprehensive approach. That is where Azrieli Centre for Autism Research (ACAR) comes in.
ACAR is a state-of-the-art research centre that unites a critical mass of researchers and clinicians at The Neuro, McGill University and McGill-affiliated institutes in the quest to discover the biological mechanisms underlying autism and advance the development and validation of new interventions to transform the lives of people with autism and their families.
ACAR is unique in integrating specialised clinical care with the full continuum of research tools from genetics to electroencephalography and brain imaging, from experimental models to a clinical research program – all together with the training of autism professionals.
“The strength of ACAR comes from the diversity of clinical and research expertise locally and internationally - working together to tackle autism and improve care for patients and the autism community all over the world.”- Dr. Guy Rouleau, Director of The Neuro and ACAR.
ACAR subscribes to Open Science and makes use of two of The Neuro’s innovative Open Science platforms: the C-BIG Repository and the Early Drug Discovery Unit. This not only aligns with the values of the autism research community of sharing and collaboration, it ensures that research data are freely available to other researchers and clinicians worldwide with the goal of accelerating discoveries in the field.
Autism centre brings together researchers, clinicians, trainees, patients and the community
ACAR launched in 2017 following a transformational $16 million gift from the Azrieli Foundation and set about organizing the centre along key priorities.
The Centre is hiring top-level scientists with an interest and expertise in autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions. It is also brings together experts in related fields who bring their specialized knowledge and range of perspectives from genetics, to brain-imaging, and psychiatry. ACAR is engaging with patients and families, the autism community and partners to develop specialized programs. The Centre is also implementing innovative training programs to prepare the next generation of autism researchers and professionals.
Advanced autism research and care initiatives
New Research Models
ACAR’s researchers are putting their energy into creating new, more refined models of autism. Researchers with expertise in fields such as stem cell technology, genetics, brain imaging, biomarker development and genome sequencing are developing and using new model systems to study what is going on at a genetic or cellular level, and to experiment with interventions that could lead to new effective treatments.
Innovative Clinical Research
ACAR houses a clinical research program that involves participants with autism and their families and operates along the following principles:
- Scientific research and training strengthens high quality care and vice versa
- Early identification is critical
- Life transition periods, for example from youth to adulthood, offer opportunities to intervene for optimal outcomes
- Each person has individual needs that must be respected; we do not use a one-size-fits-all approach
Scientists use this program to advance knowledge, engage in meaningful clinical partnerships and collaborations, and better respond to the needs of people across the autism spectrum and their families. People with autism and their families that are enrolled in research can take advantage of the latest discoveries including novel interventions.
New and Improved Clinical Services
The ACAR Clinic is transforming autism care by providing services across the lifespan through a fully integrated clinical research model. The newly established specialized interdisciplinary autism clinic serves adults and youth in transition to adulthood at The Neuro while pediatric patients are seen at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. The Douglas Mental Health University Institute provides comprehensive mental health services to patients.
To create new synergies and bring together a broader range of expertise, ACAR has forged strong international collaborations and developed joint projects with autism research groups at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Cambridge in the UK. ACAR is also actively engaging researchers in Israel, as well as nationally in Toronto and Vancouver to pursue specific project collaborations.
Mentoring the Next Generation
Each year a number of ACAR trainees are selected as fellows for the Quebec Autism Training Program (QART). The competitive program trains outstanding graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in the latest research techniques and technologies, as well as develops career skills through multiple training opportunities and meaningful engagement with people living with autism, their families and the community. QART also emphasizes community outreach and engagement including trainee-led workshops on topics of interest (e.g. Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity in Science).
Partnership with the Autism Community
ACAR supports an annual autism research conference in Montreal, organized by the Transforming Autism Care Consortium (TACC), which brings together world-renowned autism experts from academia, healthcare, government officials, policy makers and community leaders. Participants engage in critical discussions on the future of autism care and treatment, new directions in fundamental and clinical research, updates on current research networks and cohorts, and ways for society to empower people living with autism and their families.
For close to 30 years, the Azrieli Foundation has funded institutions as well as operated programs on the ground. The Foundation supports scientific and medical research, higher education, Holocaust education, youth empowerment and school perseverance, music and the arts, architecture, and quality of life initiatives for people with developmental disabilities. www.azrielifoundation.org