NIMH Awards to Study Autism

Approximately, one in every 54 children are affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) which is one of the most serious childhood disorders. ASD is defined by deficits in social communication, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviors.

Children with autism often have deficits in motor imitation which is the ability to mimic physical movements and emotional behaviors of another person which can impact their capacity to learn, socialize, and communicate. 

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) recently awarded $452,702 to the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at Washington University in St. Louis.

Adam T. Eggebrecht, PhD, Assistant Professor of Radiology is going to lead a study to investigate brain function underlying motor imitation in children with and without ASD.

Eggebrecht and colleagues will use High Density Diffuse Optical Tomography (HD-DOT) and computer vision techniques to monitor school age and toddler age children. These tools silently image brain function in a naturalistic setting and have the potential to monitor at- risk children before symptoms arise.

Specifically, Dr. Eggebrecht’s team will measure neural signatures while participants perform motor imitation and movement observation. Recent advances in functional brain imaging shows promise that pre-diagnostic neural signatures for ASD may provide useful risk markers and may help shape interventional therapies to improve the quality of life.

Identifying neural signatures may provide targets for future interventions as well as lay the foundation for future work that will inform developmental models of typical and atypical social communication.

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