Dr. Suma Jacob, of the University of Minnesota is in Sioux Falls to meet with health care experts in Sioux Falls and Vermillion this week to discuss her work. She is also hoping to recruit other local families, willing to participate in a massive national study to better understand autism and its causes.
The SPARK study will combine data from 50,000 individuals with autism and their families, said Dr. Suma Jacob, a psychiatrist and associate professor at the Minneapolis-based university. The university is participating with 20 other sites on a project Jacob called “the largest autism study that’s been attempted in the U.S.”
The University of Minnesota is conducting a MILK study — it stands for Mothers and Infants Linked for Healthy Growth. The study looks at how breast milk is different from mom to mom and how it affects the baby’s growth.
Demerath, the study’s director, says by measuring how different breastfed babies develop, researchers hope to change health care long term. “If we find things that are in the milk that are particularly good for infants, we’re going to want to personalize maybe nutrition in the mom to augment those factors in the milk,” Demerath said.
“Perhaps the orphanage environment, the stress, potentially repeated infections were changing the dynamics of the body's ability to absorb the nutrients,” Georgieff said.
Georgieff says psychological stress could potentially have the same effect as infection. And that leads to new questions about how best to tackle early childhood iron deficiency. He says there are lots of reasons to continue to build roads and provide delivery packages of micronutrients to children in high risk areas, but perhaps those efforts won’t be as successful in a high-infection, high-stress environment.
“So maybe your best solution isn't providing more iron. Your solution is better hand-washing, better preparation of the foods and so on,” Georgieff said.
The clinic might not exist at all had Eckerle not recognized, shortly after becoming director, that the most intriguing trend at the clinic wasn’t the drop in international adoptees but the concurrent rise in foster children and domestic adoptees. Foster care placements have increased since 2013, especially in Minnesota, largely owing to parental substance abuse and neglect. Yet foster children and domestic adoptees still only comprised about 10 percent of the clinic’s patients when Eckerle took over. When Eckerle began to talk with U administrators about the future of the clinic, she saw a need—and an opportunity.
The medical and psychological issues can be similar among orphaned children, whether foreign or domestic. But most adoption clinics weren’t serving foster kids or domestic adoptees, mostly because they didn’t have the means. “It’s not a lucrative business to see people on medical assistance,” Eckerle notes. As the other clinics began to close, Eckerle became more determined to stay open.
In 2014, an estimated 2 million Americans abused opioids, and 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. Many people are abusing opioids, and many people are dying from them, but why are opioids addictive? What function in the brain makes us susceptible?
Health Talk blog spoke with Patrick Rothwell, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience in the Medical School and MnDRIVE neuromodulation scholar, to answer those questions. Rothwell specializes in the neuroscience of addiction.
“The unique part of this study is, it’s really hitting nationally and networking across autism centers to get the big numbers we need to make discoveries we need in biology and autism,” said Dr. Suma Jacob, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota."
Thousands of participants are needed for SPARK, which stands for Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge.
Megan Gunnar, director of the Institute of Child Development in the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), has been elected to the 2017 class of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is one of three University of Minnesota professors and 228 national and international scholars, artists, philanthropists, and business leaders elected this year.
Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the country’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers.
Dr. Kelvin Lim at the University of Minnesota is studying the brain to better understand the conditions that create addiction and lead to relapse after addiction treatment. Follow the link to listen in!