Supported by a grant through the National Institutes of Health's Autism Centers of Excellence program program, the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Center for Autism Research will continue to work to identify early signs of autism spectrum disorders. Children's Hospital will share more than $100 million in NIH funding for autism research, which is distributed across nine Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) grants.
Under the recently announced five-year, $2.2 million grant, 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 plans to 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.
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 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.