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CHOP’s Center for Autism Research receives five-year grant as an NIH Autism Center of Excellence

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, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Autism Research (CAR) at CHOP.

Under the five-year, $2.2 million grant to CHOP, CAR 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 three 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 six 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, Ph.D., Director of the Infant Neuroimaging Lab at CAR and coleader with Schultz of CHOP's study team.

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 two or three, 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.


Contact: Dana Mortensen
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

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