This spring, Thompson Center autism experts joined hundreds of the leading international autism research experts in Rotterdam, Netherlands at the 2018 International Society for Autism Research (INSAR) annual meeting. Every year, INSAR brings together the world’s leading autism researchers to present their latest findings and to exchange ideas.
At the conference, several key themes developed. Research is continuing to increase focusing on adults and teens with autism, including their
quality of life, mental health, diagnostic tests and differences in sensory processing. Further, research into the genetics involved with autism and co-occurring conditions was often discussed. Specifically, it was announced that the number of genes with strong ties to autism has increased to 99, up from 65 last year. Also, the search for autism biomarkers has increased in recent years.
“The complexity and heterogeneity, or diversity, of autism is being taken into account more broadly,” says David Beversdorf, professor of radiology, neurology and psychology at the Thompson Center and the University of Missouri. “This lends emphasis to the need to consider heterogeneity when evaluating the salience of potential biomarkers.”
The scope of autism research was another theme of the conference and how researchers should view the scale of their work.
“Some of the biggest takeaways for me were related to how we think about the scope of autism research,” said Dr. Karen O’Connor, an assistant research professor at the Thompson Center. “In her keynote, Dr. Geraldine Dawson shared that we need to shift our research paradigm from ‘diagnose and treat’ to instead ‘predict and promote.’ I also very much enjoyed the strand focused on females with autism and hearing about the research examining the perspectives of adults with autism related to social camouflaging.”
Ultimately, INSAR proved once again to be invaluable as a means of connecting autism researchers and experts, allowing the brightest minds in the field to meet and began innovative collaborations.
“INSAR allowed me connect with some of the leading experts in the field,” said Dr. Nancy Cheak-Zamora, an associate professor of health sciences at the Thompson Center and University of Missouri. “I was able to attend a grant writers’ luncheon to meet different funding sources. It was a great opportunity to share my grant ideas and I received excellent feedback as well as connections to other funders. Also, conversations during the poster sessions and between meetings was wonderful. I made several researchers with whom I am now working on a collaboration.”
In total, the Thompson Center sent 10 staff, students and faculty members to INSAR, and presented 12 posters and research projects at the conference.