Neuroscientist Kevin Pelphrey has decided to study autism and it’s origins at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. As of now, there is no well developed idea on why exactly certain people are on this spectrum. Scientists have decided there is no single reason that could be an outright cause or trigger of autism, rather it appears to be far more complex and individualized.
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Researchers are looking closely at genetics and how different traits of parents could influence autism, like age or premature birth. Pelphrey believes autism begins prior to infancy. To look into this claim he is investigating early brains, still in uteruses, to find differences between those that develop autism, and those that don’t. He is pursuing new brain-imaging techniques to possibly develop autism biomarkers, which could revolutionize how the disease is cared for/treated. A specific one is called a functional near-infrared spectroscopy, which scans light through oxygen exposed blood to look into brain activity.
It looks somewhat like a headband and examines the blood flow specifically in the frontal cortex. This technique is much smaller than an MRI, and though it is less precise, its convenience and availability could be a great method of brain imaging. Pelphrey and other scientists believe if autism is detected in an early fetus stage they could change the trajectory of the brains development, avoiding a life on the spectrum for those individuals. Because this genetic disorder holds so much complexity, there are many more questions scientists like Pelphrey and many others have to research. However, new theories, like Kevin Pelphrey’s, are the beginning of discovering where autism is coming from and how to prevent it.
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