Office for People With Developmental Disabilities

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OPWDD’s Institute For Basic Research Receives 3-year Grant to Study Very Early Indicators of Autism Risk

01/09/12

Staten Island—The New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities’ (OPWDD’s) Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities (IBR) has been selected to receive a three-year grant for $450,000 from Autism Speaks for research on autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), Commissioner Courtney Burke announced today.

The grant will be used to further develop and evaluate methods devised at IBR to prospectively identify behavioral patterns that indicate ASD risk in high-medical-risk neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) infants and are presumed to link to later ASD diagnoses. Findings from the study will contribute to very early detection of risk for ASD and increase understanding of the mechanisms involved in its development. Findings also may lead to future, more efficient, interventions for this disorder. The ASDs are a group of disorders involving varying degrees of difficulties in social interaction, verbal, and nonverbal communication, and repetitive motor behaviors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 1 in 110 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with an ASD, with twice that rate in high-medical-risk infants. OPWDD currently serves approximately 22,000 individuals with ASD.

Infants born very small and preterm are at higher risk for a variety of developmental problems and were recently shown to be at higher risk for ASD. This project will build on IBR’s recent findings, reported in the journal Pediatrics in 2010, in a retrospective analysis of data collected from more than 2,000 NICU infants studied over the past 20 years indicating specific abnormalities in the behaviors of high-medical-risk NICU newborns and infants that were associated with later diagnosis of ASD. How these risk factors lead to subsequent adverse outcomes such as ASD is not clear and will be explored in this prospective study.

The principal investigator and lead researcher of the project will be Judith M. Gardner, PhD, chair of IBR’s Department of Infant Development. The project represents a combined effort of that department and IBR’s Department of Psychology, chaired by Ira L. Cohen, PhD, together with the Division of Neonatology of the Department of Pediatrics at Richmond University Medical Center, Staten Island; Anthony Barone, DO, Director of Neonatology, and Santos Parab, MD, neonatologist. Additional co-investigators will be Bernard Z. Karmel, PhD; Elizabeth M. Lennon, PhD; Michael J. Flory, MPH, PhD; Robert L. Freedland, PhD; and Phyllis M. Kittler, PhD, all from the Department of Infant Development.

Commissioner Burke said, “We are confident that this grant will lead to improved outcomes for the individuals we serve by making possible earlier diagnosis of ASD and earlier intervention for children with autism.”

IBR Director W. Ted Brown, MD, PhD, said, “Through this award, IBR will continue its commitment to improving methods for identifying the risk for ASDs and for diagnosing these disorders.”