Autism affects one in 110 children and one in 85 boys. More than 25,000 Pennsylvanians live with autism. And although autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the country, we know frustratingly little about its causes. Dr. Craig Newschaffer, Professor and Chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Drexel School of Public Health, is working to change that.
Dr. Newschaffer is leading comprehensive research into the causes, risk factors and burdens of autism. He is the principal investigator of the Early Autism Risk Longitudinal Investigation (EARLI) Study, a first-of-its-kind autism study involving leading researchers from across the country.
This NIH-funded Autism Center of Excellence project is one of the largest prospective studies of autism fielded to date. “The project is building a network of parents and families participating in groundbreaking study on the etiology of autism spectrum disorders,” said Dr. Newschaffer.
By following mothers and children over time, researchers can better identify the early risk factors and markers of autism, as well as how children with autism develop and change behavior. Investigators in the EARLI study will develop a comprehensive picture of how and why genes and the environment interact in behavioral development.
“There’s really a very rich array of potential exposure variables,” said Dr. Newschaffer. “Like cancer, autism is a very complex disease.”
The EARLI study recently enrolled its 150th participant, and is expected to continue to enroll many additional participants at its sites nationwide, including the Drexel University School of Public Health, University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Autism, the Johns Hopkins University, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Kaiser Permanente and U.C. Davis’ Mind Institute.
Dr. Newschaffer and his team have a comprehensive commitment to autism research and the translation and dissemination of research in ways that will directly benefit the community.
Dr. Newschaffer is also a co-investigator on the Baltimore site of the National Children’s Study, which examines the effects of the environment on the growth, development and health of children across the United States by following them from before birth until age 21. The goal of the study is to understand the role various environmental factors have on health and disease. Newschaffer is a member of the Science Advisory Board for the national research and advocacy organization, Autism Speaks, and serves on advisory boards for Autism Delaware and the Delaware Birth Defects and Autism Registry.