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In search for an innovative neural marker and intervention for socio-communicative difficulties in autism spectrum disorders’

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by impairments in social communication and interaction, including difficulties processing faces and using eye contact. For the patient and his/her environment, these social difficulties often yield tremendous personal suffering. For society in general, the increasing prevalence of ASD poses high clinical, social and economic challenges. Among the major needs, there is a clear urge for more reliable and objective diagnostics (preferentially at an early age) and more efficient treatments. To date, no objective quantitative (bio)marker exists for ASD, thus formal diagnosis is solely based on clinical expertise. Also therapeutic interventions for ASD are mainly based on behavioural social skill trainings, since biomedical therapies or pharmacological interventions targeting social dysfunctions are largely unproven. With the current research proposal we aim to fill in this gap by assessing and targeting the core social impairments of ASD via a neurobiological approach. In particular, we will validate an innovative EEG-based neural tool to objectively quantify socio-communicative sensitivity in children with ASD. Next, we will combine this new tool with various behavioural, physiological and MRI measurements to study the underlying mechanisms of oxytocin pharmacotherapy (i.e. social salience, social stress, social brain circuitry and social cognition and behaviour), and we will use this multimodal approach to monitor and predict the outcome of a long-term oxytocin pharmacotherapy in children with social difficulties with and without ASD. Accordingly, we want to firmly establish an innovative neuroscience research program on ASD at KU Leuven, and extend and integrate the research lines of the two main supervisors.
Date:1 Oct 2017 →  30 Sep 2021
Keywords:auism spectrum disease
Disciplines:Neurosciences, Biological and physiological psychology, Cognitive science and intelligent systems, Developmental psychology and ageing