Two exceptional projects that will study new treatment mechanisms and improve data collection methods in community settings have received Accelerator Grants from ASF. These $5000 awards will leverage ongoing federal funding so that the study can provide the maximum benefit to those affected with ASD. Applications for accelerator grants are accepted twice per year. The next request for applications will be in April with awards announced over the summer.
The Effects of Oxytocin on Functional Neural Connectivity in Autism
Rachel Greene, Principal Investigator with Garret Stuber and Gabriel Dichter, University of North Carolina
Recent studies have suggested that intranasal oxytocin administration improves some social behaviors in individuals with an autism diagnosis. Researchers at the University of North Carolina are examining where in the brain oxytocin acts to produce this improvement. Of particular interest are the brain systems involved in reward. While neuroscientists have shown that the areas of the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and nucleus accumbens (NAC) are essential for the rewarding properties of food and drugs of abuse, the role of these brain regions in the rewarding aspects of social interactions and person-to-person connections has been less-studied. This project will build on an existing grant to study the effects of oxytocin on the levels of activity of the NAC in social reward in people with autism. Ms. Greene will utilize the accelerator grant mechanism to build on the data already collected to understand how this brain region connects with other parts of the brain during different tasks involving social reward, and how oxytocin affects these functional connections. This project will reveal the potential mechanisms of action of a novel ASD therapeutic agent and provide a new neural target by which to evaluate future promising ASD treatments.
Using Experience Sampling to Evaluate the Effects of Social Skills Treatment
Maya Mosner, Principal Investigator with Edwin Brodkin, Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia and Gabriel Dichter, University of North Carolina
Often research studies collect information from individuals at single time points and in settings like clinics or hospitals. These environments may not reflect functioning in real life situations. Recently, some researchers outside the field of autism have been using something called "experience sampling". This method allows people to report back multiple times during the day in contexts in which they live, work or function. This project will piggyback on a trial of social skills training to collect data using experience sampling, where individuals will fill out information about feelings and emotions during social situations. Three questions will be added and will be collected multiple times during the day using a smartphone: where the participants are, what they are doing and who they are with. This project will allow the researchers to improve studies that investigate interventions where context and setting are important.