The inaugural Eagles Autism Challenge, presented by Lincoln Financial Group, awarded Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) $936,000 to support cutting-edge autism research and programs. CHOP was one of three beneficiary institutions in Philadelphia to receive funds raised by participants of the Eagles Autism Challenge cycling and 5k run/walk charity event, which took place on May 19, 2018, and raised $2.5 million.
CHOP, along with the two other event beneficiaries — Drexel University, and Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health — submitted research proposals to the Eagles Autism Challenge’s distinguished scientific peer review panel, formed to evaluate and approve the applications. The panel considered the merits of each application based on their significance, the investigator(s) involved, innovation and approach. All research proposals were evaluated for measurable outcomes and transformational impact in the field of autism.
The panel accepted the following proposals and funds will directly support three basic and clinical research areas at CHOP:
William C. Gaetz, PhD, a research scientist in the Department of Radiology at CHOP, will study some of the specific neurological pathways that could be implicated in the connection between autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and epilepsy. Gaetz and his fellow researchers believe that a signaling imbalance in the brain that impacts inhibition is a common feature in children who have both ASD and epilepsy. Gaetz’s team will use the magnetoencephalography (MEG) scanner, as well as other methods, to assess electrical activity of the brain and determine important biomarkers. The study aims to allow researchers to identify which epilepsy treatments could potentially be repurposed as treatments for ASD.
“We are honored to be among the first recipients of the funding raised through the Eagles Autism Challenge,” said Gaetz. “Children diagnosed with both autism and epilepsy are faced with some incredible challenges. We hope this research expands our understanding of the shared mechanisms between autism and epilepsy, and offers practical implications for future treatment.”
Nathan J. Blum, MD, Chief of the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at CHOP, will study an intervention to help families of children with ASD and challenging disruptive behaviors. Children with ASD may have an increased frequency of behavioral and emotional disorders and require a variety of specialized services. The program would have several goals, including supporting patients and their families receiving outpatient care at CHOP, as well as providing comprehensive interprofessional assessment for a subset of patients to determine co-occurring diagnoses and help choose treatments or other interventions to benefit the child, family, and/or community-based providers.
“As the Eagles Autism Challenge has proven, great things can happen when different organizations come together around a common goal,” said Blum. “The research supported by these funds will help families faced with some of the most complex cases of autism and establish the basis for a network of support that goes beyond a doctor’s office and truly incorporates the community.”
John D. Herrington, PhD, a psychologist in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at CHOP and the Associate Director of the Center for Autism Research’s Developmental Neuroimaging Program, will use the funds to focus on a project based around autism and co-occurring ADHD and anxiety disorders, which affect up to 50 percent of individuals on the autism spectrum and can be difficult to distinguish from the core symptoms of ASD. Research has shown that autistic individuals who also have significant ADHD and anxiety symptoms have greater difficulty achieving independence in adulthood.
“Using novel technologies, including computer vision and biosensors that can be set up in the home, this generous funding will help us determine markers in the brain and behavioral patterns of individuals on the autism spectrum who also have anxiety or ADHD,” said Herrington. “If clinicians can better predict outcomes in patients with these co-occurring disorders, they may be better able to tailor more personalized interventions.”
The second annual Eagles Autism Challenge will take place on Saturday, May 18. For more information on how to support Team CHOP, visit the Eagles Autism Challenge fundraising page.