SOURCE ALERT: USC experts available to discuss autism awareness

April 15, 2013

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a set of complex neurodevelopment disorders that include autistic disorder, Asperger disorder and pervasive developmental disorder. The prevalence of ASD diagnosis has increased in recent decades – about 1 in 88 children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with ASD since 2010. In recognition of Autism Awareness Month in April, this source alert includes experts who can address various aspects of autism including environmental and genetic risk factors and autism outlook.

Autism Outlook

Pat Levitt, Ph.D., is provost professor of neuroscience, psychiatry, psychology and pharmacy at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. His research studies have a long-term goal of understanding the biological basis of neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders, and how genes and the environment together influence typical and atypical development. He can address the outlook on autism research and therapies. “The advances we are making in understanding individual differences for children diagnosed with autism is helping us to design better approaches for intervention,” said Levitt. “This will continue to improve as we gain knowledge through research in neuroscience, behavior and medicine.” He can be contacted at (323) 442-1509 or Mallory.Redel@med.usc.edu.

Environmental Risk Factors

Heather Volk, Ph.D., is assistant professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. Her research focuses on the environmental and genetic epidemiology of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. She can discuss how environmental factors may be linked to autism. “Epidemiologic research studies of autism are now beginning to provide insights into environmental factors which may increase risk for autism,” said Volk. “Our work finds that air pollution exposure, during pregnancy or early life, may be one such factor that can increase a child’s risk.” Contact her at (323) 442-5101 or hvolk@usc.edu.

Genetic Risk Factors

Daniel Campbell, Ph.D., is assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. His research focuses on defining functional genetic variants that contribute to the origin and treatment effectiveness of autism and schizophrenia. He can
comment on genetic factors that contribute to autism risk. “It is clear that genetic factors contribute to autism risk,” said Campbell. “However, identifying the specific genes has proven challenging. My lab recently found that the most significant genetic associations for autism point to non-coding RNAs (genes that make RNAs that are not translated into protein). These non-coding RNAs are abundant in the human brain and we are just beginning to understand their functions.”

Contact him at (323) 442-2979 or dbcampbe@med.usc.edu.

About Keck Medicine of USC

Keck Medicine of USC encompasses the University of Southern California’s medical school and clinical enterprise. It consists of the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the Keck Medical Center of USC.

Contacts

Leslie Ridgeway at (323) 442-2823 or lridgewa@usc.edu;
Molly Rugg at (323) 442-2548 or mrugg@usc.edu.