Research into autism is getting a big boost in Quebec, with a $16 million private donation from the Montreal-based Azrieli Foundation.
The money will help create the first autism research centre of its kind. The family behind the donation is hoping the Quebec government will follow suit with more public funding for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
“We were particularly interested in the area of neurodevelopmental disorders as they have touched our family directly,” the foundation’s CEO Naomi Azrieli said. “The brain is the final frontier of human discovery.”
The Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) and McGill University will use the investment to create the Azrieli Centre for Autism Research (ACAR), a comprehensive program with a special focus on research, drug discovery, and training of autism specialists.
“This donation really allows us to do things that you can’t get funding for, like to start something new to get something going that we think is very promising,” MNI Director Dr. Guy Rouleau said.
The new research will aim to offer a better understanding of the brain, discover the genetic causes of ASD and ultimately lead to better treatment options.
“Montreal is really going to become a hub for autism research so I think that bodes really well for the future,” Giant Steps School Chairman Nick Katalifos said.
His teenage son has ASD and while he feels the quality of services available is outstanding, it’s the quantity that’s insufficient.
“We always want to see more from the government,” Katalifos said. “This has become a societal issue just because of the sheer numbers involved so there’s no doubt we need more services.”
It’s a message the health minister heard loud and clear, especially after the Foundation’s CEO called him out on the need for more funding during the announcement. “I look forward to hearing about new government support towards research and care,” Naomi Azrieli said.
The minister responded, “I totally agree for that kind of patient we need to direct more money,” Gaétan Barrette said.
But families in need of more services will have to be patient since he admits there are no plans for more public funding until the unveiling of next year’s provincial budget.
“Well, wait until next year,” Barrette said. “The issue of diagnosis for autism and home care are two issues that are significant to me.”