UC Irvine will use $14.8 million in public-private funding to open an autism research and treatment center, the university announced Thursday.

The Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders of Southern California will eventually offer a complete range of diagnostic and treatment services for those on the autism spectrum from birth to 22 years old, according to a news release.

The center will build on the mission of UCI's OC Kids, which has provided support and educational programs for children and families coping with developmental disorders since it opened in 2001.

The $14.8 million is a first-of-its kind public-private partnership between the Children and Families Commission of Orange County and the William & Nancy Thompson Family Foundation.

"Nothing like this currently exists in Southern California, and we are absolutely committed to transforming the diagnosis and treatment of autism," William Thompson, chairman of the Family Foundation, said in a prepared statement.

The commission earlier this year approved providing $7 million for evaluation, diagnosis and treatment services. Another $7 million comes from the foundation as a grant for clinical services and research. The final $800,000 is a grant from the foundation to Chapman University's College of Educational Studies for services collaborating with the autism center.

The foundation's contribution also supports a drug research program led by UCI professor Dr. J. Jay Gargus. He and a team will study gene function, cell biology, brain function and behavior of those with autism in hopes of finding a cause and cure for disorders on the autism spectrum.

Children's Hospital of Orange County and Chapman University will also support the center. CHOC plans to provide some staffing, and Chapman will spearhead educational services for families with members on the autism spectrum.

"Today, thanks to ongoing commission support and a tremendous catalytic investment from the Thompson family, the Center for Autism is engaging in an extraordinary collaboration that will soon expand and enhance local services," UCI Chancellor Michael Drake said, according to a prepared statement. "At the same time, we are building bridges to novel university research that will give families here and around the world new hope for a cure."

jeremiah.dobruck2@latimes.com

Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck