A newly updated strategic plan guiding federally-funded autism research places new emphasis on adults with the disorder, while leaving the door open for further research on vaccines.

The 2010 strategic plan released this week by the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, or IACC, provides a blueprint for the type of autism research that will likely be approved for federal funding during the course of the year. The IACC is an advisory committee established by the Combating Autism Act of 2006, which is comprised of government officials and members of the autism community.

The updated plan includes 32 new research objectives, in addition to many objectives carried over from the 2009 plan.

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Notably, the committee added eight goals specifically addressing the needs of adults with autism. The new plan also has an increased emphasis on people with autism who are nonverbal and those who are cognitively impaired.

“The IACC heard the need for more research on adults, more focus on non-verbal people with ASD, and the need for better infrastructure for research — from bio-repositories to better surveillance,” said Dr. Thomas Insel, chair of the IACC and director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

Another new objective in the plan provoked some controversy last year because it allows for the possibility of further study on the relationship between vaccines and autism. The goal calls for at least two studies to be conducted looking at whether or not certain sub-populations are more susceptible to environmental factors such as immune challenges, which could include vaccines.

Despite the IACC’s status as an advisory committee, the strategic plan has significant sway since government funding for autism research is on the rise. In 2009, the National Institutes of Health allocated $196 million for autism research. And when President Barack Obama released his 2011 budget proposal earlier this week, it included $222 million for autism research.

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