Our Research Studies

Autism Care

Research
Education
Community
Policy

Research

“Future research needs to focus not only on the biological markers of ASD but also include data about functioning, participation, and environmental barriers and facilitators.”

Dr. Olaf Kraus de Camargo  //  Developmental Pediatrician

 

MacART is laying the foundation for creating a systematic way of linking scientific research on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at McMaster University to clinical practice at McMaster Children’s Hospital.

The physical proximity of McMaster Children’s Hospital, Hamilton Health Sciences, and McMaster University has a number of characteristics that provides the rare opportunity for collaborative research. Taking advantage of existing university and clinical infrastructure and cross-appointments for clinicians at the university, ASD experts from these organizations are coming together to integrate ASD research into clinical practice.

The focus of MacART members’ research is in the areas of basic science, clinical practice, clinical research, epidemiology and statistical modelling, knowledge translation and exchange, and social science research. By promoting the collaboration of stakeholders across disciplines, MacART is reducing barriers to implementing research in clinical practice, with the goal of advancing autism care through meaningful research.

Learn more about our research HERE.

Education

MacART members are now supervising more than 50 research trainees at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels, and are engaged in the mentoring of junior and intermediate faculty members.

In the future, we intend to establish research and clinical training programs for students in McMaster’s undergraduate medical, health sciences, and psychology programs, and for residents and fellows in Pediatrics and Psychiatry.

By training and mentoring emerging researchers and practitioners, we will help to solidify their understanding of and commitment to using basic science to inform their clinical practice, and to use their clinical experience to help formulate research questions. It is our belief that involving these learners in MacART educational activities will promote their use of practices that advance autism care through meaningful research.

Community

“Our scientists are working collaboratively with local clinicians to generate the evidence needed to improve autism services. This symposium is a great example of McMaster’s community engagement efforts.”

Dr. Patrick Deane // President & Vice-Chancellor // McMaster University

 

The community engagement component of MacART strives to work with stakeholders and involve them as partners in every step of the research process.  By doing so, the questions that drive research begin to change. They become more meaningful because they address the real day-to-day challenges faced by children and their families, and the clinicians supporting them.

MacART aims to increase participation and involvement of members of the McMaster and Hamilton communities in the research process. With community members driving the research, new and relevant knowledge can be produced to bridge the research-to-practice gap in ASD and advance autism care through meaningful research.

Policy

“People whose lives are connected to the challenge of autism can share knowledge – from clinicians to educators to parents – and what an amazing opportunity that is. We have a real opportunity to translate challenges into research, and research into practice that will help families living with autism.”

Rob MacIsaac  //  President & CEO // Hamilton Health Sciences

 

Policies should be created using the best available evidence that make positive impacts on the lives of individuals with ASD, along with their families.

MacART’s founder, Stelios Georgiades, serves on both federal and provincial advisory committees about ASD treatment funding.  Along with the wide-ranging expertise of its many ASD experts, MacART is set to act as a highly credible source of evidence-based information to influence and inform public policy about the provision and funding of ASD diagnosis, treatment, and family supports.

MacART will continue to find ways to collaborate with policymakers to both learn more about the policymaking process, and to contribute our expertise and knowledge to inform policymaking, in order to advance autism care through meaningful research.

Research Studies by MacART Members

 “MacART is a great example of how university and hospital can work together to meet the increasingly complex needs of children and families affected by ASD. For the first time, researchers and clinicians are systematically working together to design and implement more meaningful research that directly meets the needs of ASD stakeholders.”

  • Dr. Stelios Georgiades // Founder & Co-Director // MacART

 

Below is some information on research studies led by MacART members:

 

Preventable Health Inequalities in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Funded by:

 

Hamilton Health Sciences & McMaster University

Researchers:

 

Dr. Stelios Georgiades and colleagues

Objectives:

 

Investigate whether or not adaptive functioning skills in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are related to social and economic inequalities; and examine the extent to which these inequalities are associated with wait-time to treatment initiation.

 

The Social Determinants of Children’s Developmental Health

Funded by:

 

Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)

Researchers:

 

Drs. Magdalena Janus, Eric Duku, Stelios Georgiades, Terry Bennett, and colleagues

Objectives:

 

To establish and analyze the first pan-Canadian population-level database on children’s developmental health that contains information about groups of people with shared social and economic characteristics, such as their income or occupations. From 2016 to 2018, Canada-wide Early Development Instrument (EDI) records from 2004 to 2014, representing over 700,000 children, will be linked to Canada Census and Income Tax filer data. Data about social and economic status derived from these databases will be used to predict how vulnerable children may be to poor health and social developmental in different neighbourhoods.

 

The TIDE (tideglusib) Study

Funded by:

 

Ontario Brain Institute and Brain Canada

Researchers:

 

Drs. Evdokia Anagnostou, Terry Bennett, Robert Nicolson, and colleagues

Objectives:

 

The Province of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Network (POND) is conducting new research to learn whether or not the medication tideglusib has a positive effect on social behaviour or repetitive behaviours in children between the ages 12 to 17 with a diagnosis of ASD.

 

INtranasal OXyTocin (IN-OXT) for the Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

Funded by:

 

Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)

Researchers:

 

Drs. Marc Woodbury-Smith, Jeremy Goldberg, Peter Szatmari, and colleagues

Objectives:

 

The major objective of this randomized control trial is to determine if intranasal oxytocin (IN-OXT) is superior to a placebo in improving social function in adults with ASD by the end of the 12-week study period. The researchers are also looking at whether or not IN-OXT has a positive effect on anxiety and overall quality of life. Over a 3-year period, 146 adults with ASD will participate in this study at either Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital or St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton. The participants will be randomly assigned to receive either intranasal oxytocin or a placebo over a 12-week period, and seen in follow-up 4 weeks later.

 

The Pediatric Autism Research Collaborative (PARC) Project

Funded by:

 

McMaster Children’s Hospital, Hamilton Health Sciences, and McMaster University

Researchers:

 

Drs. Stelios Georgiades, Terry Bennett, Caroline Roncadin and the McMaster Autism Research Team

Objectives:

 

This study will serve as the foundation for establishing an ASD Research Protocol that can be embedded into clinical practice and allow for the ongoing collection of data on all children who receive an ASD diagnosis in our region. The plan for this 3-year initiative will be to develop a protocol for data to be collected at various time points, from diagnosis and over a 2-year period.

 

Targeted Cognitive Training: Assessment and Plasticity in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Funded by:

 

Lawson Foundation Fellowship

Researchers:

 

Drs. Diana Parvinchi, Geoff Hall, Terry Bennett, Stelios Georgiades, and Caroline Roncadin

Objectives:

 

The researchers are developing a software-based intervention program tailored to the cognitive deficits in ASD. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) will also be used to investigate training-induced biological changes within the brain. If successful, children will experience improvement of their symptom severity, intellectual capacity, and quality of life. The findings will also advance understanding of neural networks supporting cognitive control, alteration of this network in ASD, and cognitive plasticity.

 

Functional Connectivity and its Association with Core Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder Across Development

Funded by:

 

Lawson Foundation Fellowship

Researchers:

 

Drs. Diana Parvinchi, Geoff Hall, Terry Bennett, Stelios Georgiades, and Caroline Roncadin

Objectives:

 

This study focused on large-scale brain networks involved in various behavioural and cognitive tasks. Deficits in these networks have been reported in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but findings are inconsistent. Also, there are no imaging studies in the ASD literature currently reporting on functional connectivity in these networks in children younger than 7 years old. Furthermore, most studies have excluded low functioning children with ASD. To address these weaknesses, this study examined the relationship between functional connectivity in multiple regions related to behaviour and thinking, learning, and social skills in groups of children with ASD.

 

Correction of Neuronal Function in Autism

Funded by:

 

The Brain Canada Foundation and the Azrieli Foundation

Researchers:

 

Dr. Laurie Doering and colleagues

Objectives:

 

In the developing brain, cells called astrocytes produce substances that help to ensure that communication signals in the brain are normal. Astrocytes and the substances they make are affected in neurodevelopmental disorders like autism, altering the brain functions that control learning, memory, and behaviour. Researchers will use different biological and genetic techniques to attempt to correct the communication patterns in the brain. Both mice and fruit flies (Drosophila) will be used to model this condition. The study’s results will help determine if there are ways to counteract the intellectual and social disabilities associated with autism, leading to new treatment strategies.

 

Understanding and treating neurological phenotypes in the 15q13.3 microdeletion syndrome

Funded by:

 

Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)

Researchers:

 

Dr. Karun Singh and colleagues

Objectives:

 

The project studies a strong genetic risk factor in which individuals who are missing a piece of human chromosome 15 (called a microdeletion) can have autism, schizophrenia, epilepsy, or developmental delay. The researchers believe their approach will illuminate what factors contribute to the different clinical symptoms seen in this syndrome, and lead to better disease classification, closer monitoring of symptoms and possibly early invention.

 

Understanding the function of DIXDC1 in normal and abnormal brain development

Funded by:

 

Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)

Researchers:

 

Dr. Karun Singh and colleagues

Objectives:

 

This project is studying a new candidate molecule called DIXDC1 to determine its role in brain cell growth, synapse development and the biological and physical origins of ASD. The study will examine DIXDC’s role in synaptic function, and explore a novel signaling pathway regulating DIXDC1 function. Importantly, the team has discovered new ASD-linked mutations in DIXDC1 and will examine how these human mutations cause brain dysfunction.

 

NeuroVox

Funded by:

 

Ontario Brain Institute via the POND Network

Researchers:

 

Dr. John Connolly

Objectives:

 

NeuroVox® is a research program that uses both psychological testing and technologies that measure and record brain activity. The method has proven to be successful in assessing a range of populations who have significant communication impairments, including those with acquired brain injuries and individuals diagnosed as having ASD. Research is also conducted in cooperation with Dr. Peter Szatmari, Dr. Jo-Ann Reitzel and Autism Speaks Inc., in order to expand accurate assessment of brain activity in young people with nonverbal autism. Information such as this may help people in the future who are diagnosed with ASD to receive better care and management.

 

The Autism Classification System of Functioning: Social Communication (ACSF:SC)

Funded by:

 

Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and Hamilton Academic Health Sciences Organization (HAHSO)

Researchers:

 

Drs. Briano Di Rezze, Peter Rosenbaum, and colleagues

Objectives:

 

In creating the Autism Classification System of Functioning: Social Communication (ACSF:SC), CanChild Centre researchers have provided clinicians, therapists, parents, and teachers with a standardized and simple way to talk about what a child’s social communication abilities are. It is not a test of skills, but is instead a way of describing what the child CAN do rather than what they cannot. The information gathered using the tool can then be used by all members of the child’s care team to help understand and potentially improve a child’s social communication function in everyday life

 

The Province of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Disorders (POND) Network

Funded by:

 

The Ontario Brain Institute

Researchers:

 

Drs. Stelios Georgiades, Terry Bennett, Joseph Beyene, Jane Foster, Geoff Hall, Caroline Roncadin, Karun Singh, Noam Soreni, Peter Szatmari, Marc Woodbury-Smith, Margaret Fahnestock, and colleagues

Objectives:

 

To accelerate the discovery of biomarkers that will enhance understanding of ASD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and intellectual disability, Tourette Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, and Down Syndrome. The project will also accelerate the translation of these discoveries into novel, effective and personalized treatments aimed at improving the lives of affected children and their families. Since its inception, 472 participants with ASD have had behavioural and cognitive assessments, imaging, and electrophysiology studies. More children and their families will be recruited in the future.

 

Pathways to Better Developmental Health in Autism Spectrum Disorder (Phase III)

Funded by:

 

Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)

Researchers:

 

Drs. Terry Bennett, Eric Duku, Stelios Georgiades, Peter Szatmari, and colleagues

Objectives:

 

This longitudinal cohort study is investigating the development of the core symptoms and outcomes in children with ASD, which will provide essential information on their prognosis. The study will also lead to a better understanding of the factors associated with healthy outcomes in children with special needs and typically developing children. There is a focus on the critical period after diagnosis at 2 to 4 years of age, the transition into school, a time period during which there is wide variability in the development course of children with ASD, continuing as they grow and develop into their teen years.

 

Job Training Program - Preparing youth with autism spectrum disorder for employment: A cross-context transitions approach

Funded by:

 

Autism Speaks Canada

Researchers:

 

Drs. Briano Di Rezze, Stelios Georgiades, Geoff Hall, Terry Bennett, and colleagues

Objectives:

 

Most young people with ASD leave school without the skills needed to succeed in the workplace, in this program study, youth will be given the opportunity to learn those skills. After comprehensive assessments, they will participate in group learning experiences and be provided with the support of a job coach, who will assist them during a co-op job placement, and address the individual skills and challenges they face in securing and maintaining employment. Workshops for caregivers and employers are also provided, focusing on the education, support, mentorship and benefits of employing individuals with ASD. The JTP is the result of a collaboration between MacART, the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board, and Woodview Mental Health and Autism Services.