Science

CAR is an international leader in innovative research, clinical care, and family support. Our programs are based on the belief that effective treatments will follow from a better understanding of the causes of autism spectrum disorders and related disorders. Combining the world class clinical and research resources of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and The University of Pennsylvania (Penn), our core research programs work synergistically toward our goal of precision medicine and personalized, evidence-based therapies.

Basic Science

“Connecting the dots” between known autism-related genes and common symptoms to develop targeted therapies.

Developmental Science

Pinpointing the earliest biological and behavioral signs of autism to develop and deliver interventions in the first year of life.

Cognitive Neuroscience

Using next-generation neuroimaging to understand the neural systems governing attention, social cognition, and sensory-motor processing.

Emerging Programs

CAR is developing programs in technology-based quantitative phenotyping, translational medicine, cellular neuroscience, and transition to adulthood.

CAR researchers have published more than five hundred scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals.

For a chronological list of our academic publications, visit our Research Library.

To see coverage of our work in the popular press, see CAR in the News.

Labs

The Picky Eating Lab aims to characterize, understand, and treat food selectivity in individuals with ASD. We have research studies examining the feasibility and efficacy of the newly developed Building Up Food Flexibility and Exposure Treatment Program (BUFFET) Program as well as the best ways to describe food selectivity and measure change following treatment. In addition, we are exploring whether treatment for food selectivity has an impact on nutritional profiles.

Language is a highly informative, quantifiable social signal that is routinely broadcast "for free" during the course of everyday life. This rich signal is both lexical (e.g., words) and acoustic (e.g., pitch). Most individuals with ASD acquire language, but even high functioning individuals exhibit subtle, persistent, often socially impairing differences in this domain. Reliance on subjective, time consuming lab-based rating scales has traditionally hindered language research, leading to small sample sizes and correspondingly poor generalizability.

CAR is on the leading edge of remote capture and automated quantification of this “free” linguistic data. We employ new technologies to continuously record natural language signals from a distance, in the wild, and use cutting edge computational linguistics methods to analyze the resulting 'Big Data'. CAR's growing language program, in collaboration with the Linguistic Data Consortium at UPenn and others, aims to identify "linguistic markers of ASD" that accurately classify participants as having autism or not, and predict clinically relevant real world behaviors. Our multi-pronged approach includes a variety of collection settings, ages, and ability levels, to maximize the ecological validity and generalizability of our findings. One long term goal of our language program is to make triage and screening accessible to as many families as possible, regardless of income or proximity to a large research center; a second is to provide quantitative, objective metrics that can be used to create profiles of linguistic strengths and weaknesses, serving as indicators of treatment response as well as informing genetic and imaging studies.

For the past five years, the Laboratory on Emotion and Anxiety in ASD (LEAA) at the Center for Autism Research has been studying the etiology, neurobiology, and psychodiagnosis of anxiety in the context of ASD.  LEAA research has two aims.  The first aim is to develop better ways of identifying anxiety among children with ASD.  A significant barrier to helping children with ASD and anxiety is the challenge of obtaining a reliable anxiety disorder diagnosis, given the challenges that many children with ASD face in identifying and expressing their fears.  Recent publications from LEAA have helped shed light on how traditional anxiety measures fare among children with ASD.  The second aim is to understand why anxiety occurs so frequently in ASD.  LEAA has undertaken the largest research initiative to date on the neurobiology of anxiety in ASD, including state-of-the-art brain imaging, genetics, eye-tracking, and psychophysiological measurement.  This line of research seeks is to identify common and distinct biological pathways of anxiety and ASD, toward the ultimate goal of developing effective treatments. 

The Brainwave Lab studies how the brain processes sounds, words and pictures. We use MEG technology (magnetoencephalography) to "map" the brain by measuring the brain's electrical activity in space and time. Where is this activity happening? When does it happen? What is it? The cutting edge technology in the MEG scanner allows us to measure electromagnetic signals from the brain, providing new insight into the mechanisms of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. With our Artemis 123 machine, a MEG machine for infants and toddlers, we're now able to study these brain processes from early in development all the way up through adolescence.

Attention and cognitive control are the building block skills that allow us to select important information from the world and to act on it. CAR’s Attention and Cognitive Control Lab examines the foundations of these skills in the brain - and how impairments in basic brain processes contribute to core symptoms of neurodevelopmental disorders, such as repetitive behaviors or inattention, as well as problematic behaviors, like aggression. Our goal is to use this knowledge to develop new medication and behavioral treatments to help youth reach their personal best.