By Samantha Kolkey
Today I was shown an opinion piece published in Friday’s Wall Street Journal titled “Autism Research Should Be Financed Like Venture Capital.” I was so intrigued. The author of the piece, John Rodakis, is the founder and president of the non-profit N of One: Autism Research Foundation. This non-profit uses the funds they have available to fund autism research.
Mr. Rodakis’ piece focuses on the issue of how three organizations make up 99% of autism research funding, and these organizations provide funding to autism research that fits into what he calls the “genetics-first paradigm,” limiting the scientists who need funds to conduct their research based on more “radical ideas.” He cites two studies, one of recent note and the other from 15 years ago, which both lend evidence to theories that are not within the genetic paradigm. The more recent conducted by Dr. Robert Naviaux, professor at the University of California, San Diego who theorizes that a treatable metabolic condition may underlie autism. In a small clinical trial involving 10 boys with autism, he found a significant improvement in language and social behavior when given the drug suramin. The other was a clinical trial with 8 to 10 boys with severe autism who were taking the antibiotic vancomycin and were seen to have a significant improvement.
He proposes ideas on how the organizations providing funding to autism research can utilize a venture-capital model to diversify the types of research studies being funded. The greater the risk, the greater the reward, right? He proposes placing a hard cap on the number of grants awarded to studies that are genetics related to open up more grants to studies that move away from a genetic focus. Another proposal Mr. Rodakis made was for the National Institute of Health to create an office made up of analysts whose job is to “identify and challenge conventional points of view.” This group of analysts could then fund studies that counter the dominant model.
Since there are still so many questions surrounding autism, why not look to other theories? Why focus on one model, when there are many researchers out there looking to test out their potentially groundbreaking theory?