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NARSAD Scientific Council Member Helps Launch National Effort to Better Understand and Treat Autism

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(Great Neck, N.Y. - July 10, 2009) — NARSAD Scientific Council member Edwin Cook, M.D., is participating in a large-scale, federally funded program to investigate the genetic, neurobiological and cognitive features of people with autism.

The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), where Dr. Cook directs the Institute for Juvenile Research in the department of psychiatry, has been designated one of five Autism Centers of Excellence, recently launched by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Cook and his colleagues are investigating pharmacological agents useful for treating autism in the context of cognitive and brain differences underlying specific aspects of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Currently, they are focusing on the trait of insistence on sameness and on motor behavior.

Insistence on sameness refers to difficulties in making transitions or in responding to changes in routines, a problem that affects up to a quarter of people with ASD, according to Dr. Cook. Some people with ASD demonstrate high levels of this trait, and experience significant distress when having to deal with changes in their environment, often leading to aggressive or distraught behavior.

The study is examining people from infancy to age 55 with ASD, family members and controls using a variety of approaches, including genetic testing, brain imaging and cognitive tasks. Some of those with high levels of insistence on sameness are receiving pharmacological treatment, which will be monitored and assessed.

In a recent article on the program in the Chicago Tribune, John Sweeney, Ph.D., director of UIC’s Center for Cognitive Medicine and another of the researchers conducting the study, explained the study’s rationale: that autism was too big to attack as a whole. “We have to go through the brain bit by bit,” he said, “to find out what’s working and what’s not. Get the bricks sorted out and then build the house.”

Link to article: http://www.narsad.org/news/press/rg_2009/res20090710.html

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