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Research will develop new technologies for autism screening

Study will be funded by MRC-led Foundation Award

Scientists at Birkbeck’s Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development have been awarded funding for research aimed at developing new technologies for autism screening that can be used in low-resource settings.

Dr Teodora Gilga and Professor Mark Johnson will be working with Professor Bhismadev Chakrabarti at Reading University and researchers from the Public Health Foundation of India, funded by a grant from the Medical Research Council (MRC)-led Foundation Award, with support from ESRC. Dr Georgia Lockwood-Estrin will also be working on the project, and based at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, thanks to a Sir Henry Wellcome Trust fellowship.

The study will develop a Screening Tool for Autism Risk with Technology (START). Mobile technology such as tablets will be used to implement a battery of screening tools. In a second part of the project researchers will test how accurate this screening battery is at detecting autism in a sample of children from India.

Dr Gliga said: “In some low and middle-resource settings, such as in India, there is a paucity of child mental health professionals. As part of STAARS, a longitudinal project of infants at-risk for autism and ADHD, we have developed a variety of technologies for measuring autism risk in children, that are independent of clinical expertise. We are very happy to have the opportunity to translate this research into clinical applications. This work is important for us as it will inform on how transferable our screening tools are to different setting and cultures.”

The Foundation Awards

The research councils have together announced the first phase of health research awards from the new £1.5Bn Global Challenges Research Fund, addressing issues affecting people in low and middle income countries using the UK’s world-class research expertise. The 41 Foundation Awards led by the MRC, and supported by AHRC, BBSRC, ESRC and NERC, have been allocated to support ambitious, novel and distinctive research in non-communicable diseases and infections.

Declan Mulkeen, the MRC’s Chief of Strategy said: “The five research councils involved in the Foundation Awards have been working collectively to provide new and broader approaches to meet global research challenges. It’s encouraging to see these projects tackling the broader environmental and economic factors affecting health, as well as using new technologies to bring cost-effective treatments within reach.
He added: “The MRC has a strong track record in Global Health research, often in partnership. Infectious disease has been the main focus and remains the largest area of funding, but as countries develop, their health needs change. The Global Challenges Research Fund will enable us to tackle a broader range of health problems, for local and global benefit.
These awards represent a significant win for global research. We hope that many of the research partnerships being supported will move on to even more ambitious work over the coming years.”

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