The Center for Autism Research at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) announced today that it will continue its research to identify early signs of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) through a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) research program. CHOP will share more than $100 million in NIH funding for autism research, which is distributed across nine ACE grants. According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, autism now affects one in 88 children in the United States.
“Being able to identify the earliest behavioral and biological signals of autism will help us better understand how autism develops, how to maximize long term outcomes, and how to develop new treatments,” said Robert Schultz, PhD, Director of the Center for Autism Research (CAR) at CHOP.
Advanced brain imaging techniques will be used to study brain development in infants
Under the five-year, $2.2 million grant to CHOP, the Center for Autism Research is part of a network of four research sites that will use advanced brain imaging techniques to study brain development in 200 infants beginning at 3 months of age. Researchers will follow infants every three months, through 24 months of age in order to carefully chart brain development. The research team will conduct follow-up behavioral and diagnostic testing of these children at 36 to 60 months, the age at which a diagnosis of autism is considered to be more stable. The study will also evaluate child and family-level characteristics to learn which are predictors for a later autism diagnosis.
“We have initial findings suggesting that we can detect brain features as early as 6 months of age that help predict which infants will go onto to develop autism in the second or third year of life,” said Sarah Paterson, PhD, director of the Infant Neuroimaging Lab at CAR and co–leader with Schultz of CHOP’s study team.
Grant to fund continuation of earlier multi-center study
The current grant is a continuation of an earlier ACE-funded brain imaging study conducted by CAR in collaboration with four other autism research centers spread throughout the country. This research network published a study earlier this year demonstrating significant differences in brain development as early as six months of age — well before the appearance of behavioral or “outward” symptoms of autism.
Autism is typically diagnosed around age 2 or 3, and a growing body of research shows that early intervention yields better outcomes for individuals with autism. The new research grant will allow CHOP researchers to study children’s brain development at even earlier ages, in the hope of finding an earlier starting point.
“We are excited by the opportunity the ACE grant affords us to advance the current understanding of autism and early brain development, with the goal of being able to identify biomarkers for autism at as early as three months of age, “ said Dr. Paterson.
About the Center for Autism Research
The Center for Autism Research (CAR) is a collaborative effort between more than 20 scientists across multiple departments at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. CAR’s goals are to identify the causes of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and to use that knowledge to develop more effective treatments. CAR conducts research studies for infants at risk for being diagnosed with ASD, as well as toddlers, school-aged children, and adults on the autism spectrum. Families receive comprehensive assessment reports and are compensated for their time. Typically developing children and adults are also needed for comparison purposes.