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Thompson Center researcher one of 24 invited to Simons Foundation event

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What do you get when you bring together 24 of the country’s top autism researchers? A discussion that could ultimately change the way that autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are diagnosed forever! On July 23-24 the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) invited 24 scientists to gather and discuss practical human biomarkers for ASDs at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, NY. Participants in the discussion came from academia, pharmacology, the National Institute on Health (NIH), Autism Speaks and the Simons Foundation. One of the prominent researchers involved in this discussion was Dr. Judith Miles, clinician and researcher for the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders.

“The idea behind this gathering was to bring together an interdisciplinary team of ASD researchers in a ‘coffee break’ atmosphere so that we could brainstorm and share our research.” Miles said. “People just began discussing various aspects of research on biomarkers related to diagnosing ASD and the topics evolved from there.” she added.

Miles was invited to the discussion on ASD biomarkers because of her involvement in Assessing Pupillary Reflex, a study that she and Dr. Gary Yao, associate professor of Biomedical Engineering for the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at the University of Missouri, are currently conducting through the Thompson Center. This study is designed to look at how the pupil of the eye responds to light. In a preliminary study it was found that pupillary light reflex responses in children with autism were very different from typically developing children. As a potential biomarker for autism, the pupillary light reflex will help us better understand neurologic mechanisms underlying autism and may have clinical implications for early screening of autism.

The primary objectives of the Biomarker workshop were to seek answers to the following questions:

  • Should the development of autism biomarkers useful in the early testing of candidates be a priority for the autism research field?
  • Which biomarker approaches, that are currently being researched, seem most promising?
  • What should the Simons Foundation do to best aid the effort to find ASD biomarkers?

“We are charged with writing a one-page recommendation, based on our meeting and current research, to answer these questions.” Miles said.

Participants at the workshop spent most their time at the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics at Stony Brook University. But, on Saturday, July 23, they were treated to a special dinner at the home of Jim and Marilyn Simons on Long Island, NY.

The Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) was established in 2003. Its mission is to improve the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of autism and related developmental disorders using an interdisciplinary approach.

“It was an honor to be among such a distinguished group of researchers.” Miles said. “The setting offered opportunities for important discussions in a relaxed and collegial environment.”