Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers took brain scans at 6 months, 12 months and 24 months of children who were at high risk for autism because their older siblings had the disorder. They then identified the physical differences in the brains of children in that group who actually developed autism, and applied those findings to a second group of high-risk children.
Identifying those physical differences correctly predicted 80 percent of the children in the second high-risk group who met the clinical criteria for autism.
80-90% of people recovering from addiction relapse. If we could predict which people recovering from addiction were most likely to relapse, efforts to prevent it could be more effectively directed. Psychiatry professor Kelvin Lim is out to make that possible.
Earlier detection can make a big difference for families, says Patricia Pacheco. “I think it’s just a great program because we have been able to track Michael’s progress from just 3 months old to know that so far he seems to be neurotypical.” Michael got another scan at 6 months and will go back at years 1 and 2. “They give us information as we go,” she says.
Cullen and her colleagues are launching a 5-year brain imaging study that will examine self-harm behavior among 152 adolescent girls, a subgroup that expresses this behavior more than other populations. These girls will have a range of NSSI symptoms, from non-existent to severe. In addition, the study will collect data on brain and other biological metrics over the course of three years.
The study will follow an emerging research paradigm in the psychiatry community called Research Domain Criteria Initiative, or RDoC for short. Unlike traditional psychiatry research, which has followed the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) criteria, Cullen’s RDoC research will try to link symptoms and behavior to biological metrics – things like neurocircuitry, hormones and other indicators.
"Animal studies where we can experimentally control exposures to adversity demonstrate that the type of effects observed in this study are predictive of poor health later in development," Gunnar told Reuters Health by email. "It is not rocket science to know that children need safe places to live in order to grow into healthy and productive adults."
"Despite this, many of the children in these neighborhoods will be resilient," Gunnar said. "Identifying the protective factors that support that resilience and building on them, especially for children showing the effects of toxic exposures, is the appropriate response to the pediatric health issues revealed by this study."
“We know from intervention studies that the earlier you intervene, the better the outcome,” says Jason Wolff, an assistant professor in educational psychology.
Wolff and colleagues like Jed Elison are detecting objective differences in the brains of children who have autism spectrum disorders as early as six months old.
A child’s first years are a time of rapid development and dynamic change—and of vulnerability. Detecting autism earlier could alter the course of a child’s life for the better.
Jed Elison is applying breakthroughs in neuroscience to understand this complex development. Through a combination of behavioral observations and biomarkers, Elison and colleagues are reducing the age of first diagnosis.