10 amazing projects, 10 ways we're changing lives! Last year, we funded some incredible projects ranging from investigating the role of genes in autism to the life of autistic individuals in schools and the criminal justice system, thanks to your wonderful support. If you would like to help us fund even more important research, please consider donating today. Thank you. 1. Could oxytocin influence social behaviour? Oxytocin is a hormone that is often referred to as the ‘social’ hormone, which has previously been shown to help individuals with recognising emotions. The study funded by ART focussed on whether an oxytocin nasal spray could help people in social situations by analysing brain scans. Last year, further funding enabled the researchers to measure hormone levels in saliva samples collected during the procedure. 2. The link between hormones in pregnancy and autistic traits This project is to help understand why autistic traits are different among individuals in the general population and also why autism seems to be more common in boys. Researchers have been looking at the relationship between the hormone levels of the mother and autistic traits of the child. The funding from last year will allow researchers to measure the development and cognitive outcomes of babies using ultrasound scans of the pregnant mother. If a relationship is found, biomarkers could be identified which could lead to earlier diagnosis. 3. Autism and the criminal justice system Tackling a sensitive but incredibly important topic, this research will look to inform us about possible reasonable adjustments that could be made in order that lawyers, judges and the court system conduct fair trials when autistic individuals are involved. 4. Investigating the role of NRXN1 in autism Mutations in a gene called Neurexin 1 (NRXN1) have been linked to autism as well as other conditions. This ground-breaking project uses induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology to fill the gaps in our knowledge about the role of this gene and better our understanding of the cause of autism. 5. Are autistic people and their relatives at higher risk for developing cancer? 43 genes have been identified as key markers for both cancer and autistm spectrum conditions (ASC) and 77 other mutations are also common in both cancer and ASC. Though the genetic evidence for this association is convincing, research using medical records has yielded mixed results. The first study in the world to investigate an association between ASC and cancer in a UK population, researchers hope to discover whether individuals with ASC and mothers of children with ASC are at higher risk of developing cancer throughout their lifetimes using anonymized medical records of patients across the UK. 6. The vulnerability of autistic children in schools Self-report data collected by the Autism Research Centre found that autistic adults reported many vulnerabilities in school such as absence due to anxiety or depression, being excluded and being unemployed after education at significantly higher rates than their typical peers. Researchers are now looking at how this data compares to population data and comparing autism to other special educational needs categories to see whether autistic children are uniquely vulnerable to certain outcomes, by looking at the National Pupil Database and linked social care databases. 7. Antenatal autism testing Researchers are looking for ways to enable early detection in order for early monitoring and intervention to support autistic individuals. In this project, researchers are looking into the possibility of an antenatal test for autism by analysing ultrasounds, maternal serum sample and amniotic samples of parents in their 2nd and 3rd trimester in collaboration with the Sheba Medical Center in Israel. 8. Genome-wide association meta-analysis of autistic traits The aim of this project is to accelerate gene-discovery for autism which could further our understanding of autism biology, provide steps to autistic individuals based on genetic variants and help improve diagnosis. Researchers will measure autistic traits in the general population and correlating common variations in the genome using data. Focussing on autistic traits rather than autism increases the size of the sample and therefore the statistical power of the study. 9. Pilot neuroimaging study of savants People will savant skills are exceptionally talented in at least one area such as music, art, maths or memory. Sometimes, people with savant skills are autistic. This study will compare the similarities and differences of autistic individuals with and without savant skills, as well as people with savant skills who are not autistic and people who are neither autistic nor have any savant skills by using neuroimaging technology. It will be the first step in understanding the common brain features that may underlie the exceptional cognitive capabilities of savants and may also lead to a better understanding of the strengths and capabilities of autistic individuals. 10. Early brain development study This novel project involves scanning the brains of babies who are more likely to be autistic than the general population both during pregnancy and at birth. Pregnant autistic women will be scanned to understand why their child has an increased chance of developing autism compared to a child of a parent without autism. The aim of the project is to discover whether it is possible to predict which babies will develop autism from their early brain and behaviour measures. In the future, we hope that this information will help to ensure support for babies and young children from an earlier age. You can read more about our year of impact and achievements and if you would like to help fund more research like this, you can donate today or get involved with a fundraising event.