The International Meeting for Autism Research, May 15-17, 2008

May 14, 2008

LONDON -The 7TH Annual International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) brings experts together from around the world to the Novotel London West Hotel and Convention Centre from May 15-17, 2008.

IMFAR will host more than 1,100 researchers, delegates, autism specialists and students, in the world's largest gathering of researchers and clinicians devoted to a better understanding of autism. Attendance at this year's meeting is up more than 20 percent from the previous year. This number reflects the heightened interest and more awareness of this disorder that is now recognized to affect up to one in 100 in the United Kingdom and one in 150 individuals in the United States.

Current research on autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) involves sophisticated behavioral and biological approaches that require interdisciplinary research collaborations to gain comprehensive knowledge of the disorder. Scientists at IMFAR will discuss and disseminate the latest scientific findings aiming to stimulate research progress toward a better understanding of the nature, causes and treatment options for ASDs. By bringing together clinicians and research scientists, IMFAR provides a unique opportunity to foster dialogue across various disciplines and methods.

This year's meeting includes over 850 research and educational presentations, lectures, and panel discussions.

Highlights of the IMFAR 2008 Annual Meeting Include:

TUESDAY, MAY 13

Science Media Centre Panel Discussion
19 Albemarle Street, London
11:30 a.m.

Tony Charman, PhD, Institute of Child Health; Geraldine Dawson, PhD, Chief Science Officer Autism Speaks; Francesca Happé, PhD Kings College; Elizabeth Laugeson, PhD University of California Los Angeles

Leading autism experts will discuss the latest in autism research, the potential impact of this research and provide a preview of presentations to be given at the conference as well as be available for questions and answers.

Note: Pre-conference and embargoed study information will be provided to media attending this panel discussion.

THURSDAY, MAY 15

Keynote - Time to Give Up on a Single Explanation for Autism?
8:30 a.m.

Francesca Happé, PhD - Kings College

One mystery surrounding the complex disorder of autism is its varied symptoms, which include impairments in social interaction and language, and a restricted range of activities. For years, scientists have looked for a single cognitive and biological explanation that would help explain these diverse symptoms. Dr. Happé, a neuroscientist known for her brain imaging studies, will present a new theory of autism in which she will argue that symptom domains in autism arise from different genetic and neural mechanisms. She will present data from twin studies that suggest that genes related to the different autistic traits are largely non-overlapping and appear to be linked to distinct neural systems. Such findings have important implications for understanding the causes of autism and its heterogeneous clinical presentation.




Friendship Training for Children with High Functioning Autism: The UCLA PEERS Program
10:15 a.m.

E. Laugeson, PhD; F. Frankel; C. Mogil; A.R. Dillon - University of California Los Angeles

As children with autism enter adolescence the challenges of social interaction increase significantly, leading to many children with this disorder to develop low self-esteem and depression. It has long been recognized that social skills training is important for adolescents with autism. However, to date very little systematic research has been conducted to test the efficacy of social skills training. Clinicians from UCLA will present new findings on the effectiveness of a manualized intervention designed to help improve social skills among adolescents. The "friendship training" model was adapted from a program originally developed for kids without autism who had challenges with social interaction. This intervention with13-17 year olds targets their conversational skills, social networks, sportsmanship, teasing and arguing, and can positively affect their relationships with peers.




The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) - Toddler Module: Preliminary Findings Using a Modified Version of the ADOS
1:15 p.m.

R. Luyster, Autism Consortium; W. Guthrie, University of Michigan; K. Gotham, University of Michigan; S. Risi, University of Michigan; P. DiLavore, University of North Carolina; C. Lord, University of Michigan

Recent studies suggest that, in most cases, autism symptoms emerge during the second half of the first year of life. To date, however, autism diagnostic tools have not beenvalidated for children below 2 years of age. Dr. Lord, a well-known expert in diagnosis of autism, and her colleagues have now developed a valid observational and interview method that will allow clinicians to identify 12 month old babies who are at risk for autism. By detecting autism at a very young age, it is hoped that autism symptoms can be reduced and children can have more positive outcomes.




Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children with Unprovoked Seizures in the First Year of Life - A Population-based Study
1:15 p.m.

E. Saemundsen, University of Iceland

It has long been recognized that individuals with autism are at risk for developing seizure disorder. Estimates are that at least 25 percent of individuals with autism develop seizures. This is a unique study that examined whether unprovoked seizures during the first year of life may be an early risk index for autism. Dr. Saemundsen utilized hospital records of children 1982-1988 diagnosed with seizures in the first year of life and examined the relationship between early presence of seizures and the development of ASD. The presence of early seizures may be one sign that could lead to earlier diagnosis and possible intervention to improve outcome.




Household Pesticide Use in Relation to Autism
2 p.m.

I. Hertz-Picciotto, University of California at Davis

It is increasingly recognized that autism likely is caused by a complex interplay of both genetic and environmental factors. However, to date, very little is known about what environmental factors may play a role in the etiology of autism. This project examined participants in the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study to evaluate household pesticide use during the prenatal and postnatal period. It was found that mothers who used pet shampoos were twice more likely to have a child with ASD than those that did not. Pet shampoos often contain pyrethrins and previous animal research has found that pyrethrins are designed to target the central nervous system in insects, rodents and other species and can cause death of neurons and compromise the blood-brain barrier in early life.

FRIDAY, MAY 16

Keynote - Synaptic and Clock Genes in Autism Spectrum Disorders
8:30 a.m.

Thomas Bourgeron, PhD, Institute Pasteur

This talk will describe how specific genetic mutations in autism may help explain why individuals with this disorder have difficulty with learning and often have significant sleep problems. Dr. Bourgeron will discuss recent genetic studies showing how several genes associated with autism influence one particular signaling pathway that includes cell adhesion molecules and scaffolding proteins located at the synapse, the junction between two neurons. This pathway is crucial for synapse formation/maintenance, sets the correct balance between excitatory and inhibitory neural transmission in the brain, and is important for learning and memory. Also discussed will be new findings on a genetic mutation found in some individuals with autism that is important for melatonin synthesis. Melatonin is involved in the establishment of the sleep-wake cycle and memory formation. He will describe the potential interaction between synaptic and clock genes and how this interplay may shed light on several atypical features that are frequently observed in individuals with ASD such as sleep problems and memory difficulties.




Convergence of Behavioral Dysfunction, Abnormalities in Functional Imaging and Neuropathology in the Fusifrom Gyrus in Autism
10:50 a.m.

C. Schmitz, Maastricht University; S. Palmen, University Medical Center Utrecht; H. Heinsen, University of Wuerzburg; H. Van Engeland, University Medical Center-Utrecht; P. R. Hof, Mount Sinai School for Medicine; H. W. M. Steinbusch, Maastricht University; I Van Kooten, Maastricht University

Several lines of research suggest that individuals with autism have significant impairment in face processing, including difficulties in face recognition and the use of inefficient strategies for perceiving information from other's faces. In fact, studies using functional brain imaging have shown that, when individuals with autism look at faces, they don't activate a specialized face processing brain area located in the temporal lobe called the fusiform gyrus. These studies have helped linked the social impairments in autism to a specific neural system known to mediate a fundamental aspect of social behavior. In this presentation, the authors present new data showing abnormalities of the fusiform gyrus can be seen at the level of the neurons. Specifically, the individuals with autism had fewer neurons, less dense neurons, and reduced volume of neurons in parts of the fusiform gyrus. These abnormalities were not found in the primary visual cortex, suggesting that the fusiform is one of the specific areas affected in autism.




A Genetically Accurate Mouse Model of Autism: Disease-linked Point Mutation in Neuroligin-3 Produces Autism-like Behavior in Mice
3:45 p.m.

K. Tabuch, University of Texas; J. Blundell, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center; M. R. Etherton, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center R. Hammer, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center; X. Liu, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center; T. Sudhof, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center; C.M. Powell, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

During the past several years, scientists have been attempting to develop an appropriate animal model for autism. The development of an animal model is critical for conducting experimental studies to examine the effects of specific genetic mutations and the development of medical treatments. The scientists in this session will use a "knock-in" mouse model in which they have created a mutation in a gene associated with autism and examined the effects on the mouse's behavior. Remarkably, the mouse shows impaired social interaction, as well as superior spatial learning skills.

SATURDAY, MAY 17

Keynote - The Broader Autism Phenotype (BAP) and the New Genetics of Familial and Non-Familial Autism
8:30 a.m.

John N. Constantino, PhD - Program of Occupational Therapy, Washington University

With the new discoveries in molecular genetics, Dr. Constantino will cover how focusing on clinical, genetic, and neurobiologic features of the broader autism phenotype present in unaffected relatives of individuals with autism will aid in the search for the core genetic components.




Prospective Evaluation of Head Growth in Infants at Increased Risk of Autism
1:30 p.m.

L. Zwaigenbaum and the Baby Sibs Research Consortium, University of Alberta

Researchers studying infant siblings of children with autism have been collaborating and combining their data to better understand the earliest manifestations of autism and how it can be treated at a very early age. In this study, a collaborative network of scientists from 11 sites across North America gathered prospective head growth data on 761 infant siblings and 400 non-risk infants. Head growth was of interest because previous studies have found that children with autism often display an atypical pattern of head growth characterized by normal head size at birth followed by an unusually rapid acceleration of head growth starting at about 4-6 months of age. In this study, it was shown that this atypical pattern of head growth differentiated high-risk infants who went on to develop autism from high-risk infants who did not develop the disorder and non-risk infants. These results suggest that monitoring head growth, which can easily be accomplished during a well-baby visit, could be an early risk marker for autism in infants who have an older sibling with autism.
-end-
Media contacts:
Lori Ferme, Rubenstein Communications +1 (212) 843-8291
Adam Pockriss, Rubenstein Communications +1 (212) 843-8286
Dana Marnane, Autism Speaks +1 (917) 882-7472
Paul Burden, Autism Speaks +44 77680 11333
Samantha Gibson, Research Autism +44 7825 554009

The International Society for Autism Research (INSAR), created in 2001, is a scientific and professional organization devoted to advancing knowledge about ASDs, including autism, Asperger's syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (PDD NOS). The Society's main role has been to run the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR), which is an annual scientific meeting to exchange and disseminate new scientific progress among ASD scientists and their trainees. INSAR recently launched a new peer-reviewed journal, Autism Research, to serve both the scientific community and public by rapidly publishing high quality scientific papers to promote advances in this important field of research. To view the journal, visit www.autismresearchjournal.com.

Autism Speaks

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