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Research in Modifiable Autism Risk Factors

Program Area Leader: Craig Newschaffer

The research program on Modifiable Autism Risk Factors seeks to discover exposures or behaviors that if reduced, eliminated, or changed would lower the autism spectrum disorder disability, impairment, and morbidity. The program includes initiatives in epidemiology and exposure biology. The Autism Institute’s epidemiologic research focuses on large population-based studies to identify autism spectrum disorder risk factors while the Institute’s exposure biology research focuses on developing new ways to measure exposures that might adversely affect neurodevelopment and put these techniques to use in epidemiology. Active research projects in this program area are listed here (click on each project title for more information).

Early Autism Risk Longitudinal Investigation (EARLI)

Principal Investigator: Craig Newschaffer

Funders:National Institute of Environmental Health, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

The Early Autism Risk Longitudinal Investigation is a ground-breaking study of pre-, peri-, and neonatal risk factors and risk biomarkers for autism spectrum disorders. The study has enrolled over 200 mothers who have a child with an autism spectrum disorder at the start of a new pregnancy and is first following these mothers through delivery and then following the babies until age three. EARLI is a multisite study conducted with collaborators in California, Maryland, and Pennsylvania at the Children’s Hospital of PhiladelphiaJohns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health ,University of California Davis M.I.N.D. Institute, and Northern California Kaiser Division of Research. The EARLI Study’s website can be found here. Publications and presentations related EARLI can be found using the links below.

Infant Brain Imaging Study - EARLI Collaboration

Principal Investigators: Craig Newschaffer / Joseph Piven (University of North Carolina)
Funder: Autism Speaks

This project involves pooled analyses of DNA samples collected from the EARLI study and another large study following infants at elevated risk for ASD – the Infant Brain Imaging Study (IBIS) in order to identify autism spectrum disorder risk genes that are associated with altered developmental trajectory as opposed to just the presence or absence of autism spectrum disorders. This project is focused on discovering genetic and environmental risk factors for quantitative developmental trajectory outcomes related to autism spectrum disorders.

National Children’s Study Autism Identification Formative Research Project

Principal Investigators: Craig Newschaffer / Laura Caulfield (Johns Hopkins)
Funder:National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

This project is examining the validity of brief assessments designed to confirm an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis in young children participating in large epidemiologic research studies. Three candidate brief approaches (<30 minutes each) will be compared to much longer gold standard research assessments. If brief assessments are found to be effective for research purposes, there could also be implications for using these in community-based settings. This project is being completed through collaboration of eleven study sites including Drexel University, Kennedy Kreiger Institute, Battelle Memorial InstituteChildren’s Hospital of PhiladelphiaUniversity of WisconsinUniversity of California IrvineUniversity of California Los Angeles, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, University of MiamiUniversity of Washington, and Vanderbilt University. For more information on the National Children’s Study click here. For more information on the Johns Hopkins NCS Study Center click here.

Study to Explore Early Development (SEED)

Maryland Site PI: M. Danielle Fallin (Johns Hopkins)
Funder: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Autism Institute researchers collaborate on the Maryland site of the Study to Explore Early Development (SEED) study – the largest case-control study of autism spectrum disorder risk factors implemented in the United States. SEED is enrolling three-to-five year old children with autism spectrum disorder diagnoses, like aged children with other neurodevelopmental impairments, and like aged children who are typically developing. The SEED Study’s website can be found here. Publications and presentations related SEED can be found below.

Environment, the Perinatal Epigenome and Risk for Autism

Principal Investigator: M. Danielle Fallin (Johns Hopkins)
Funder: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Autism Institute researchers are collaborating on this project that takes a comprehensive genome-wide approach to understand the interplay between genetics, epigenetics, and in utero environment in birth and early development phenotypes that are important predictors of adverse perinatal outcomes generally, and that are related to autism spectrum disorders specifically. Publications and presentations related this project can be found here.