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Baby Siblings Research Consortium Annual Report

May 23, 2012

The Autism Speaks High Risk Baby Siblings Research Consortium (BSRC) has released its 2011 annual report. It describes dozens of studies published by consortium researchers over the past year. They include important findings, resources, projects and training opportunities concerning autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The research focuses on identifying the earliest signs and symptoms of autism, with an emphasis on lowering the age of diagnosis and early intervention.

“This report reflects the accomplishments of a remarkable group of researchers making a real impact on earlier detection and diagnosis of ASD,” says Autism Speaks Director of Research for Environmental Sciences Alycia Halladay, Ph.D. “Individually and as a group, these investigators continue to make important discoveries and pass along their expertise to students and trainees who will carry this research forward.”

The BSRC brings together 25 research teams across the U.S., Canada, Israel and the United Kingdom. Halladay coordinates the group’s activities. Autism Speaks funds the group’s across-site analysis of information. By allowing investigators to share information, this increases the power of their research and the reliability of their findings.

The annual report highlights three studies that generated great interest in 2011. The first revealed that younger siblings of children with autism have a 1 in 5 risk of developing an ASD. This has increased awareness that developmental monitoring of high-risk “baby sibs” can lower the age of diagnosis and intervention. A growing body of research suggests that earlier intervention improves outcomes.

Also highlighted in the report is the 2011 finding that baby siblings of children with autism make significantly fewer speech-like vocalizations during their first two years. This was in comparison to infants in families not affected by autism. The less that the baby siblings vocalized in the first year of life, the more likely they were to develop autism symptoms in their second year. The researchers concluded that reduced vocalization could be an early indicator of autism risk.

Also featured are the results of a study that used brain imaging to look for autism “signatures,” or biomarkers. Using electroencephalography (EEG), the investigators could group 9-month-old infants into high versus low autism risk groups. When the researchers looked only at the boys in their study sample, the accuracy of their risk estimates jumped to nearly 100 percent.

The report also summarizes BSRC research grants funded in 2011. These include four grants from Autism Speaks. They focus on topics such as motor skills in babies at risk for ASD, improving parent-led interventions and identifying gene risk markers.

The BSRC’s plans for 2012 include development of its unprecedented new biorepository. This database includes confidential information on the medical issues and environmental exposures of over 445 baby siblings of children with ASD. This information is stored along with biological samples for genetic analysis. At completion, it will be the largest collection of biological samples from families with mothers and infants tracked from pregnancy through 36 months of age. The biorepository is a joint project between Autism Speaks and the Simons Foundation.

Autism Speaks began funding baby sibling research in 1997. Since then it has committed over $7 million to this endeavor. You can explore these and other research projects using our Grant Search. This research would not be possible without the support of our families, volunteers and donors.