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Brain Imaging Study of Infant Sibs at Risk for Autism Expands Scope

Researchers are Looking for More Families to Participate
March 24, 2010

March 24, 2010


Researchers at the University of North Carolina, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, University of Washington in Seattle, and Washington University in St. Louis, are currently conducting a multi-center study to examine brain development in infants who have an older sibling with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Infants are being seen at 6, 12 and 24 months. Infants who have an older sibling with ASD are at higher risk of developing the disorder than the general population.The goal of the Infant Brain Imaging Study (IBIS), funded in part by Autism Speaks and an Autism Center of Excellence grant from the National Institutes of Health, is to better understand early brain development in very young infants at risk for ASD, which will eventually lead to ways of identifying ASD early in life and developing interventions. Recently, new funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Development has expanded this project to include infants and toddlers with Fragile X Syndrome. The study is seeking participation from families with an infant who has an older sibling with ASD or with an infant diagnosed with Fragile X. All infants will receive developmental screening for ASD as part of the study.

Fragile X is a neurodevelopmental disorder caused by a single gene mutation. Because approximately 1/3 of children with Fragile X also receive a diagnosis of autism, studying the brain development of these individuals very early on in life will provide important clues about what happens during brain development, when, and why.

Research suggests that early overgrowth of the brain in children with autism may coincide with the onset of autistic symptoms at the end of the first year of life. By conducting both MRI brain scans and behavioral assessments at these 3 time points, researchers hope to be able to understand the relationship between brain development and the onset of autistic symptoms in children at higher risk for autism (infants with older brothers and sisters with autism). Findings from this study may provide important clues to early detection and intervention. Moreover, data from this study is forming part of an even larger collaboration, announced last year, which is focusing upon understanding the influence of gene x environment interactions on brain development. All together, 1500 children will be examined as part of this large collaboration.

Researchers at these four universities are actively recruiting families with infants to participate in the study. Infants should be 6 months old or younger and have an older sibling with a diagnosis of ASD. With this new funding, participants may also enter the study at 6 months or younger if the infant has a diagnosis of Fragile X. Brain scans performed with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) use magnetic waves, not radiation, and are safe for children. Participants will receive compensation for participation as well as reimbursement for study related travel.

Interested families should visit or click the map below for the study site in their region.