A child with autism plays with other children (file).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
An unusual autism database that will benefit patients and their families has been established by scientists from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and doctors at Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba, where some 150 children are diagnosed with the condition every year.
Data in the database include behavioral information from parental questionnaires; from voice and video recordings of the autistic child during diagnostic assessment; detailed information about the child and family from the Soroka electronic patient records system; genetic samples; and various neurological measures from electroencephalogram and eye-tracking tests.
The hospital and university are able to integrate research and technology into the diagnostic visits and later follow up visits. The interdisciplinary team, led by Dr. Gal Meiri of Soroka, and Dr. Ilan Dinstein and Dr. Idan Menashe of BGU, have managed to collect a wide variety of data without requiring the children to make additional visits to the lab. Their report about the database was just published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
“Scientists around the world have come to realize that autism is not a single disorder, but rather a family of distinct disorders that are likely generated by different causes. An important goal of the Negev HUB [hospital-university-based database] initiative is to facilitate identification of different autism subtypes,” said Menashe, head of the autism genetic epidemiology lab and a member of the Public Health Department in the BGU Faculty of Health Sciences.
“The availability of a wide-variety of data from a relatively large and unbiased sample of young children with autism will allow scientists to ‘connect the dots’ from potential causes such as genetics, through associated brain abnormalities, to precise behavioral and cognitive outcomes... Such an understanding of specific types of autism is essential for translating the science into new, targeted clinical treatments,” he explained.
The database is housed in the Negev Autism Center – an ongoing collaboration between BGU and Soroka dedicated to translational autism research, which aims to translate scientific discoveries into treatments and tools to improve quality of life. It and other facilities have made the Negev Autism Center a valuable national resource that will contribute to autism research and clinical care on a global scale, the team said.
Data collection from the clinical centers is based on the care provided by the hospital and the university, along with information from other Soroka units that deal with parents, pregnancy, birth and child development. The database will immediately improve services, the researchers said, and make possible integration of the research team into the clinical team, as evidenced by the high demand to participate in the center’s studies.