Future Focused: Pathway to Personalized Medicine
Looking to the future, scientists at the Center for Autism Research (CAR) say studies examining brain structure and function as it relates to social cognition, repetitive behaviors, anxiety, and ADHD- as well as those aimed at refining research methodology to incorporate emerging data processing capabilities- hold the most promise for helping us to understand how we might develop treatments that target the core symptoms of autism.
”In continuing to examine co-occurring disorders of anxiety and ADHD in individuals with ASD, and how they each work within the brain, the treatment aspect becomes more important,” says John Herrington, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Child Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at the Perelman School of Medicine and the associate director of CAR’s Developmental Neuroimaging Program. To date, there is very little research to explain, for example, why a particular social skills treatment works for one child and not another. Or why treatments for anxiety or ADHD work for some children with ASD and not others. “Our mission is to take foundational knowledge we’ve gained from brain imaging research to date, and conduct new studies, using newly developed measures of social and communication skills in ‘live’ situations and newly developed statistical methods, to visualize the brain mechanisms contributing to both the symptoms of ASD and common co-occuring symptoms in individual children. Pairing these approaches with new treatments developed at CAR, or in partnership with industry, will allow us to identify which treatment may work best for each child with ASD, depending on their individual brain signature” says Benjamin Yerys, PhD, a child psychologist at CAR.
Building on CAR’s foundational brain imaging work, researchers are now zeroing in on how brain networks function in concert with one another- and with the environment- to process social information in individuals with ASD and related disorders. Research teams at CAR will combine this line of research with robust genetic and motor data being gathered at CAR, to discover the overarching patterns of characteristics of ASD, as well as potential treatments and lifetime outcomes. It is this integrated understanding that is needed to make personalized medicine for individuals with ASD a reality.