Current Studies

Autism Care

Research
Education
Community
Policy

Research

“Future research needs to focus not only on the biological markers of ASD but also include data about functioning, participation, and environmental barriers and facilitators.”

Dr. Olaf Kraus de Camargo  //  Developmental Pediatrician

 

MacART is laying the foundation for creating a systematic way of linking scientific research on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at McMaster University to clinical practice at McMaster Children’s Hospital.

The physical proximity of McMaster Children’s Hospital, Hamilton Health Sciences, and McMaster University has a number of characteristics that provides the rare opportunity for collaborative research. Taking advantage of existing university and clinical infrastructure and cross-appointments for clinicians at the university, ASD experts from these organizations are coming together to integrate ASD research into clinical practice.

The focus of MacART members’ research is in the areas of basic science, clinical practice, clinical research, epidemiology and statistical modelling, knowledge translation and exchange, and social science research. By promoting the collaboration of stakeholders across disciplines, MacART is reducing barriers to implementing research in clinical practice, with the goal of advancing autism care through meaningful research.

Learn more about our research HERE.

Education

MacART members are now supervising more than 50 research trainees at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels, and are engaged in the mentoring of junior and intermediate faculty members.

In the future, we intend to establish research and clinical training programs for students in McMaster’s undergraduate medical, health sciences, and psychology programs, and for residents and fellows in Pediatrics and Psychiatry.

By training and mentoring emerging researchers and practitioners, we will help to solidify their understanding of and commitment to using basic science to inform their clinical practice, and to use their clinical experience to help formulate research questions. It is our belief that involving these learners in MacART educational activities will promote their use of practices that advance autism care through meaningful research.

Community

“Our scientists are working collaboratively with local clinicians to generate the evidence needed to improve autism services. This symposium is a great example of McMaster’s community engagement efforts.”

Dr. Patrick Deane // President & Vice-Chancellor // McMaster University

 

The community engagement component of MacART strives to work with stakeholders and involve them as partners in every step of the research process.  By doing so, the questions that drive research begin to change. They become more meaningful because they address the real day-to-day challenges faced by children and their families, and the clinicians supporting them.

MacART aims to increase participation and involvement of members of the McMaster and Hamilton communities in the research process. With community members driving the research, new and relevant knowledge can be produced to bridge the research-to-practice gap in ASD and advance autism care through meaningful research.

Policy

“People whose lives are connected to the challenge of autism can share knowledge – from clinicians to educators to parents – and what an amazing opportunity that is. We have a real opportunity to translate challenges into research, and research into practice that will help families living with autism.”

Rob MacIsaac  //  President & CEO // Hamilton Health Sciences

 

Policies should be created using the best available evidence that make positive impacts on the lives of individuals with ASD, along with their families.

MacART’s founder, Stelios Georgiades, serves on both federal and provincial advisory committees about ASD treatment funding.  Along with the wide-ranging expertise of its many ASD experts, MacART is set to act as a highly credible source of evidence-based information to influence and inform public policy about the provision and funding of ASD diagnosis, treatment, and family supports.

MacART will continue to find ways to collaborate with policymakers to both learn more about the policymaking process, and to contribute our expertise and knowledge to inform policymaking, in order to advance autism care through meaningful research.

Current Studies by MacART Members

 

The list below shows currently active, on-going research studies and projects being conducted by MacART members and our partners and collaborators.

Some of these studies are also looking for participants. That list of studies, along with who would be eligible to take part, can also be found on the ‘Recruiting Studies’ page. 

 

The Pediatric Autism Research Cohort (PARC) Study

Funded by:

McMaster Children's Hospital & McMaster University

Researchers:

Dr. Stelios Georgiades, Dr. Caroline Roncadin, Dr. Ronit Mesterman, Dr. Irene Drmic, and Colleagues.

Study Description:

This study is working to examine the factors that influence diversity in how ASD unfolds over time. The goals are to explore the factors contributing to the diverse pathways and outcomes in young children with ASD, to generate research evidence that can inform families and clinicians as they work together to develop more personalized intervention plans for children with ASD. The study will be recruiting children newly diagnosed with autism under age 4, and inviting their families to complete sets of online questionnaires every 6 months over the study period.

Approximate Study Period:

January 2021 - December 2022

More Information:

This is the full scale version of the PARC study (for more information, see this link).

 

SAAAC Mobile Developmental Outreach Clinic - 2020 Replication

Funded by:

Autism Speaks Canada

Researchers:

Dr. Mohammad Zubairi, Dr. Stelios Georgiades, Anna Kata, and Colleagues.

Study Description:

The Mobile Developmental Outreach Clinic (M-DOC) is a mobile screening clinic developed to provide assessments to underserved populations with the hopes of decreasing the diagnosis age and allowing access to early interventions more quickly. Feedback from the initial phase of the M-DOC project (2019) indicated parents wanted additional support during the 16-week waiting period to see a developmental specialist. To enhance the M-DOC pathway, the SAAAC Autism Centre is partnering with local organizations to provide a 6-week parent-led intervention that teaches parents to deliver a Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT). The goal of the program is to support parents in improving their child’s social communication skills. MacART is helping to conduct the evaluation component of this study.

Approximate Study Period:

November 2020 - November 2021

 

BrothErs and Sister Involvement in health care TranSition for youth wIth Brain-based disabilitieS (BEST SIBS) Study

Funded by:

Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Fellowship: Patient-Oriented Research Awards - Transition to Leadership Stream - Phase I

Researchers:

PhD Candidate Linda Nguyen, Dr. Marjolijn Ketelaar, Dr. Briano Di Rezze, Dr. Susan Jack, Dr. Jan Willem Gorter, in partnership with the Sibling Youth Advisory Council.

Study Description:

As children with disabilities grow up and become adults, they will move from their pediatric to adult health care providers. Health care transition can be a challenging process to navigate and youth often need help from their family members, including siblings. We are collaborating with the Sibling Youth Advisory Council who identified this research project as important in raising awareness about siblings’ roles. The purpose of this study is to explore and develop a deeper understanding of the roles and responsibilities held by siblings in supporting their brother or sister with a brain-based disability to prepare for health care transition. Information from this study can help to develop and tailor transition resources to support siblings.

Approximate Study Period:

March 2020 - June 2021

Recruitment Information:

This study is currently recruiting. Recruitment information can be found in this video and the CanChild website.
Eligibility criteria: Siblings are eligible to participate if they are 14 to 40 years old, have a sibling who is 14-21 years old with a child-onset neurodisability (for example, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or spina bifida), speak English, and living in Ontario.
If interested in participating or for more information, please contact: Linda Nguyen, nguyel7@mcmaster.ca.

 

Strengthening the health system to support caregivers of children with autism to engage in their child’s care

Funded by:

Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)

Researchers:

Dr. Stephen Gentles and Colleagues.

Study Description:

This fellowship project is a partnership with Autism Ontario, and has two aims. First is a review of the literature using systematic methods to summarize what is known about the factors influencing parent involvement in their child’s care. Second is the development of a new measure of parents’ readiness and ability to meet these demands for involvement. Information for developing this measure will come from the literature review and from interviewing people on both sides—parents of children with ASD, and professionals that provide ASD services. The measure will then be tested to ensure it works well in a clinical setting. When ready, it will be made available, free of charge, for care providers across Canada to monitor and improve service delivery to families of children with ASD.

Approximate Study Period:

September 2019 - August 2021

 

A randomized placebo-controlled trial of ARBaclofen vs. placebo in the treatment of children and adolescents with ASD

Funded by:

Ontario Brain Institute, Brain Canada

Researchers:

Dr. Evdokia Anagnostou, Dr. Julia Frei, Dr. Olaf Kraus de Camargo, Dr. Robert Nicolson, and Colleagues.

Study Description:

The Province of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Disorders (POND) Network is researching genes, the brain, and behaviour to find potential treatments in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We are currently investigating whether arbaclofen may help improve social functioning in children and teens with autism. We are looking for children and teens between 5 and 17 years old diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and able to tolerate bloodwork. This 18 week long study (9 visits) is comparing arbaclofen against placebo for improving social and global function, and communication. The most common side effects are sedation (tiredness) and upset stomach.

Approximate Study Period:

August 2019 - August 2021

Recruitment Information:

This study is currently recruiting. Please see the recruitment poster.
Eligibility criteria: children and teens between 5 and 17 years old, who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and able to tolerate bloodwork.
If interested in participating, please contact: Alessia Greco, algreco@mcmaster.ca.

 

Mental Health Matters – evaluation of the Living Life to the Full (LLTTF) and Mood Walks programs

Funded by:

Public Health Agency of Canada

Researchers:

Dr. Mackenzie Salt and Colleagues.

Study Description:

MacART is supporting the evaluation of adaptations to the Living Life to the Full (LLTTF) and Mood Walks programs. LLTTF is a mental health promotion course designed to help people deal with everyday life challenges and learn self-management skills using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) principles. This program has been adapted to the needs of different types of populations (including caregivers, older adults, youth, post-secondary students, different ethnocultural groups). LLTTF has now been adapted for participants with autism and their caregivers. Mood Walks is designed to encourage and support the mental and physical health of participants through exposure to the healing effects of nature, participation in physical activity and engagement with their community.

Approximate Study Period:

August 2019 - July 2021

More Information: The program is running in a number of locations where partner organizations are actively recruiting. If anyone would like to participate in the (now virtual) Living Life to the Full program, please contact Autism Ontario. The Mood Walks program has been put on hold due to COVID-19.
To find more information and to contact a program lead near you, please visit: https://www.autismontario.com/programs-services/18-and-over/mental-health-matters

 

Investigating the acceptability of the Family Check-up (FCU) program for caregivers of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Funded by:

Hamilton Health Sciences Research Strategic Initiatives

Researchers:

Dr. Teresa Bennett, Dr. Vivian Lee, and Colleagues.

Study Description:

The Family Check-up is a brief, evidence-based, assessment-driven intervention that uses a strength-based and motivational interviewing approach to engage caregivers in the prevention and treatment of child emotional and behavioural problems (EBP). Although this intervention has been well studied in the United States, Dr. Bennett and other MacART members are the first research group to investigate the utility of the FCU program in Canada, in addition to its acceptability for families of children with ASD and EBP. This feasibility project will provide invaluable insight into the critical components to consider when implementing and adapting established intervention for a new population (i.e. ASD) as well as areas that require additional consideration when embedding a new intervention into a new healthcare system.

Approximate Study Period:

January 2019 - ongoing

Recruitment Information: This study is currently recruiting.
Eligibility criteria: Caregiver(s) of child 6-17 with ASD diagnosis; concern about child emotions and/or behaviours; child is functionally verbal; family comfortable reading/speaking English.
If interested in participating, please contact: Julie Gross, grossj@mcmaster.ca.

 

Understanding and treating neurological phenotypes in the 15q13.3 microdeletion syndrome

Funded by:

Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)

Researchers:

Dr. Karun Singh and Colleagues.

Study Description:

The project studies a strong genetic risk factor in which individuals who are missing a piece of human chromosome 15 (called a microdeletion) can have autism, schizophrenia, epilepsy, or developmental delay. The researchers believe their approach will illuminate what factors contribute to the different clinical symptoms seen in this syndrome, and lead to better disease classification, closer monitoring of symptoms and possibly early invention.

Approximate Study Period:

September 2018 - September 2021

 

Understanding the function of DIXDC1 in normal and abnormal brain development

Funded by:

Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)

Researchers:

Dr. Karun Singh and Colleagues.

Study Description:

This project is studying a new candidate molecule called DIXDC1 to determine its role in brain cell growth, synapse development and the biological and physical origins of ASD. The study will examine DIXDC’s role in synaptic function, and explore a novel signaling pathway regulating DIXDC1 function. Importantly, the team has discovered new ASD-linked mutations in DIXDC1 and will examine how these human mutations cause brain dysfunction.

Approximate Study Period:

September 2018 - September 2021

 

The Pediatric Autism Research Cohort (PARC) Study - PILOT PHASE

Funded by:

McMaster Children's Hospital, McMaster University, the Autism Spectrum Disorders Research Project of Grand Master Paul E Todd-2017-19.

Researchers:

Dr. Stelios Georgiades, Dr. Teresa Bennett, Dr. Caroline Roncadin, and Colleagues.

Study Description:

This study will serve as the foundation for establishing an ASD Research Protocol that can be embedded into clinical practice and allow for the ongoing collection of data on all children who receive an ASD diagnosis in our region. The plan for this 3-year initiative will be to develop a protocol for data to be collected at various time points, from diagnosis and over a 2-year period.

Study Period:

April 2018 - July 2021

 

Development of a standardized measure of social-communication abilities for children with neurodevelopmental disorders - the Developmental Assessment of Social Communication Abilities (DASCA)

Funded by:

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Researchers:

Dr. Somer Bishop, Dr. Stelios Georgiades and Colleagues.

Study Description:

This project is working to develop a measure of social-communication ability that can be used to describe baseline levels of ability and then capture subsequent stability or change in children with autism spectrum disorder or other neurodevelopmental disabilities. The new measure will be a parent-report, computer-administered questionnaire and will stand apart from other assessments of social-communication by measuring abilities rather than impairments.

Approximate Study Period:

August 2017 - August 2022

 

The Province of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Disorders (POND) Network

Funded by:

Ontario Brain Institute

Researchers:

Dr. Stelios Georgiades, Dr. Teresa Bennett, Dr. Joseph Beyene, Dr. Jane Foster, Dr. Geoff Hall, Dr. Caroline Roncadin, Dr. Karun Singh, Dr. Noam Soreni, Dr. Peter Szatmari, Dr. Marc Woodbury-Smith, Dr. Margaret Fahnestock, and Colleagues.

Study Description:

To accelerate the discovery of biomarkers that will enhance understanding of ASD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and intellectual disability, Tourette Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, and Down Syndrome. The project will also accelerate the translation of these discoveries into novel, effective and personalized treatments aimed at improving the lives of affected children and their families. Since its inception, 472 participants with ASD have had behavioural and cognitive assessments, imaging, and electrophysiology studies. More children and their families will be recruited in the future.

Approximate Study Period:

October 2011 - March 2023

Recruitment Information:

This study is currently recruiting. Please see the following PDFs for more information: POND Network BrochurePOND Network Flyer
Eligibility criteria: Confirmed ASD diagnosis; 21 years, 11 months of age or less.
If interested in participating, please contact: Alessia Greco, algreco@mcmaster.ca, or Carolyn Russell, crussel@mcmaster.ca

 

Gut-Immune Biomarkers and Behaviour in Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Funded by:

Ontario Brain Institute, Province of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Disorder (POND) Network

Researchers:

Dr. Jane Foster, Dr. Dawn Bowdish

Study Description:

This project studies the relationship between the microbiome-immune-brain axis and behaviour in neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs). Dysbiosis and immune abnormalities are reported in a subset of NDD patients, with increased levels of inflammation being associated with symptom severity. One aspect of this study is examining the link between the activation levels of immune cells and markers of gut inflammation with anxiety in children with NDDs. The other aspect of this study uses a reverse translation approach that examines the effects of eliminating microbiome T-cell communication and neurodevelopmental outcomes in a mouse model.

Approximate Study Period:

October 2011 - March 2023

 

Pathways to Better Developmental Health in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Funded by:

Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR)

Researchers:

Dr. Teresa Bennett, Dr. Eric Duku, Dr. Stelios Georgiades, Dr. Peter Szatmari, and Colleagues.

Study Description:

This longitudinal cohort study is investigating the development of the core symptoms and outcomes in children with ASD, which will provide essential information on their prognosis. The study will also lead to a better understanding of the factors associated with healthy outcomes in children with special needs and typically developing children. There is a focus on the critical period after diagnosis at 2 to 4 years of age, the transition into school, a time period during which there is wide variability in the development course of children with ASD, continuing as they grow and develop into their teen years. This study is currently in Phase III.

Study Period:

April 2005 - June 2023

More Information: Pathways in ASD - Website