Wayne State Joins $3.5M Research on Genetic Links to OCD, Autism

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Researchers at the Wayne State University School of Medicine are beginning a second study in an effort to determine the role of family genes in the brain function of children with mental health disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, autism, and anxiety.

Wayne State, along with researchers at the University of Michigan and University of Toronto, received a nearly $3.5 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to lead the study.

"This combined brain imaging and genetics grant extends the work we have done in obsessive compulsive disorders to other conditions with obsessive behaviors, including autism spectrum disorders, depression, non-OCD anxiety, and tic disorders,” says Dr. David Rosenberg, the study’s principal investigator and a professor and chair of the WSU department of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences.

Dr. Rosenberg says the researchers will use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to acquire functional signals in children with obsessive-compulsive behaviors and healthy pediatric controls. The investigators will then apply a genetic analysis in an effort to discover genetic bases of impaired brain networks.

“This goal is facilitated by the acquisition of fMRI data, but more importantly through the application of complex analytic methods and genetic analyses, we may be able to discover a ‘causal’ pathway from genes to brain networks and how this pathway eventually leads to pathological behaviors such as OCD,” says Vaibhav Diwadkar, a co-principal investigator of the study and an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Wayne State.

WSU has received continuous funding from the National Institute of Mental Health for its studies on brain mechanisms and genetics in childhood OCD.

IN RELATED NEWS, Michigan State University will launch one of the nation's first programs to help young children with autism through one-on-one training and classroom experience. The Early Learning Institute opens for 3- to 4-year olds with autism spectrum disorders on Sept. 9.

“(The Early Learning Institute) emphasizes a step-by-step approach to early intervention across several environments,” says Joshua Plavnick, an assistant professor of special education at MSU and co-director for the institute. “Half of their day will be spent in one-on-one, intensive behavioral therapy… In the other half of their day, children will learn social interaction skills with and from their peers in an inclusive, classroom setting.”

The Early Learning Institute is located at the Child Development Laboratories Central School, 325 W. Grand River Ave. in East Lansing.  The institute will accept eight students in its first year of operation. Applications are currently being accepted.

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