The mission of the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment is to continue to play a leading role, both nationally and internationally, in efforts to develop an improved understanding of the biological basis of autism, so as to improve diagnosis and to develop and disseminate new, more effective treatments for autism spectrum disorders across the lifespan. We hope to achieve these goals by fostering a strong collaborative environment for basic and applied research, as well as a challenging, but supportive environment for trainees.
The Center was established in 2003 as one of eight national centers in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded research initiative, Studies to Advance Autism Research and Treatment (STAART). In 2007, the Center was awarded two NIH new Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE)  grants - as one of six national ACE  Centers and as the lead research site in one of five national ACE Network projects. In 2012, NIH announced new ACE awards ; notably, CART was the only ACE Center in the nation to get renewed funding to 2017 (ACE II ) , and added a new ACE Network project. In early 2013, the CART ACE Genetics Network grant was renewed to 2018.
UCLA has played a unique role in the history of research on autism. In the 1950's, considerably before other major universities, UCLA had an active research program concerned with characterizing children with autism. The research and treatment conducted over the past 50 years at UCLA has set the standard for many of the research and treatment models currently used to understand autism and optimize the treatment of individuals with autism. Stronger coalescence of the group was achieved when Dr. Dan Geschwind, with the strong support from Dr. Peter Whybrow, Director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior , organized all of the research and clinical programs under one administrative structure, the Center for Autism Research and Treatment (CART). This was spurred by the establishment in 2003 of the STAART center funded by NIH, under the guidance of CART cofounders Dr. Marian Sigman and Dr. Geschwind, as the co-principal investigators of the STAART grant. Currently, Dr. Susan Bookheimer leads the CART ACE Center grant, Dr. Geschwind directs the CART ACE Genetics Network grant, and Dr. Kasari leads a new CART ACE Treatment Network grant.
- Dr. Ivar Lovaas established behavior modification as the first effective treatment for autism.
1970s and 1980s:
- First studies of twins that indicated that rather than being caused by the mother, autism had a genetic etiology.
- Work by Dr. Marian Sigman and colleagues demonstrated fundamental deficits in joint attention and presented the concept of core cognitive deficits in autism.
- Establishment of unique, effective day treatment program by Dr. B.J. Freeman.
- Establishment of the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE) by the Cure Autism Now Foundation and UCLA investigators.
- Initiation of novel intervention approaches by Dr. Sigman and colleagues, based on basic research in child development.
- Largest genome scan in autism performed by UCLA investigators and collaborators.
- Re-organization of autism program, including clinical assessment to provide research and training focus.
- Identification and rigorous confirmation of first chromosomal region harboring autism genes.
- Identification of several genes potentially associated with autism.
- Study of infant siblings of autistic children (high risk) to identify predictors of autism and prognostic information.
- Unique studies of scientifically based interventions in the laboratory and in real world settings (school and play dates) ongoing.
- Identification of the gene CNTNAP2.
- Neuroimaging studies lead to the mirror neuron hypothesis of autism; now combining imaging and genetics to bridge genes, brain and behavior.
- Several studies of autism treatment, both in early childhood and in school-aged children are also ongoing.
- UCLA is the only academic institution in the world in which autism center investigators are leading two Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) grants from NIH.
- Identification of regional brain differences and frontal cortical disconnection in carriers of the gene CNTNAP2 risk allele.
- Interventions specifically focused on joint attention and play engagement improve language outcomes for children with ASD.
- Peer-mediated interventions at school significantly improve peer-related social engagement and connections over child assisted (no peer) interventions only.
- Identification of warning signs of autism in 12-month-old siblings of children with autism, including atypical interest in faces, reduced frequency of joint attention and requesting behaviors, and reduced responsiveness to social cues.
- UCLA receives NIMH P30 Grant and recruits Dr. Shafali Jeste (pediatric neurologist who trained at Harvard) to join CART faculty and create an Electrophysiology Core laboratory to expand autism research to study infants and young, minimally verbal children.