As autism prevalence rates skyrocketed over the last three decades, so too did the volume of research into the developmental disorder, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis.

There was a 12-fold increase in the number of scientific journal articles focused on autism in the last 30 years, according to a report released late last week by the global information firm Thomson Reuters.

The analysis is based on a review of journal articles indexed in the Thomson Reuters ScienceWire Publication Catalog between 1980 and 2010. It was produced in collaboration with the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, a federal advisory panel charged with identifying autism research priorities.

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Most autism research conducted over the three decades focused on the biology of autism, risk factors for the disorder as well as treatments and interventions, the analysis found. There was a lesser emphasis on infrastructure and surveillance, studying lifespan issues and services research, though all areas saw an uptick in interest from scientists.

While the biological basis of autism was the most popular focus for researchers throughout the time period studied, a dramatic spike in such studies was seen beginning in 2005. That’s the same year that Autism Speaks — the most commonly cited private backer of autism research — was founded.

Most research is happening in the United States, though the field is becoming increasingly global with studies coming from authors in over 50 countries, the review indicated.

However, those behind the analysis were able to draw fewer conclusions about who’s controlling the purse strings when it comes to autism research. That’s because only one third of autism studies included information about their funding sources. Nonetheless, from the data available it appears that most research is benefiting from a mix of public and private dollars.

“Publication volume, impact and thematic trends suggest that autism is a young but rapidly growing and evolving research field,” the report found.

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