By the time Alicia Curran’s son was a year old, she says she noticed a few things different about him.
"Year two, we noticed a few more things," Curran recalls. "By three, there was no denying that autism was what he had."
Back in 2003, when her son was diagnosed, she says there weren’t a lot of answers for parents of children with autism. All that ambiguity was tough for a "mom with a lot of questions."
Since then, research has provided some answers to her questions, "good, solid answers I can county on." Now, Curran helps researchers provide more answers as a research grant coordinator at the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopment Disorders in Columbia, where her son is also a patient.
The Thompson Center is also where US Senator Roy Blunt came on Tuesday to highlight a $2 billion funding boost to the National Institutes for Health. After a brief tour of the facility, Senator Blunt gave three reasons for supporting the funding boost for the nation's biomedical research agency: the families, like Curran's who are waiting for answers from biomedical research; aiding a public health system taxed by rising costs of care, and the potential economic boost to Missouri.
"We are about to see a huge revolution in health care," Blunt said, "where the research is done is, frankly, likely where the jobs are."
The message was not lost on this audience, which included Dr. Micah Mazurek, a clinical child psychologist at the Thompson Center. Last year, Mazurek was awarded an NIH grant of more than a million dollars examining a treatment outcome tool to measure autism symptoms, which would allow researchers to measure the effectiveness of new treatments.
"That's really important," Mazurek says, "because if you're developing a new treatment, you want to know if it's working or not."
With the help of NIH funding, the tool Mazurek is developing with her team is designed to do just that. It’s also helped to bring a US senator to this relatively small facility to tout the NIH funding boost.
"We're one of the places that have NIH researchers who are able to put that money to use," says Thompson Center executive director Dr. Stephen Kanne, who says Senator Blunt's staff reached out to the center about the visit.
"It's a good showcase for our center and a good showcase for our university."