A Simon Fraser University researcher is part of a group that has received nearly $1 million for a study that “could set the stage for new therapies to help children with autism,” according to a release from the university.
Dr. Teresa Cheung, a researcher with SFU’s ImageTech Lab at Surrey Memorial Hospital and Dr. John Welsh, a neuroscientist at the Center for Integrative Brain Research at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, are the recipients of a nearly $1-million Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) grant.
“This is a strong commitment to study autism in a unique way that is not replicated anywhere in the world,” said Cheung, who is also a clinical neuroimaging scientist with Fraser Health and assistant professor of professional practice at Simon Fraser University. “There has been little study of human brain circuit function because the methodologies and technology haven’t been widely available.”
The research project, “Cerebro-cerebellar Dynamics in Human Brain Health,” is a collaboration between Fraser Health, Simon Fraser University, Seattle Children’s and the University of Washington in Seattle.
Cheung and Welsh will carry out the research at SFU’s ImageTech Lab at Surrey Memorial Hospital.
The project will be a four-year study that uses eye blinking to establish links between a child’s ability to show associative learning and various neurological conditions, such as autism and motor and intellectual disability.
“All we need children to do is sit and watch a fun movie while we measure the magnetic fields created by their brain,” Cheung sais. “We can involve children of all abilities—not just those with the highest abilities—because the activity is relatively passive.”
Welsh, who is also a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, said new technology has opened up many possibilities.
“We now have tools with the sensitivity to record activity deep in the brain at the speed that the brain actually operates – more than a hundred times every second,” he said. “This is what has been sorely needed and opens up a new frontier.”
Autism affects the development of the brain and changes how a person communicates socially, their sensory experience and how they learn and behave. It can be evident as early as two years old, according to Fraser Health.
April is World Autism Month and April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day.