Taking Great Leaps

Purdue Autism Research Center affiliates conduct groundbreaking research that ranges “from cell cultures to community cultures.” Our science is funded by a variety of federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation, as well as private foundations and gifts.

Read more about our faculty and students’ recently funded projects below!

Keehn study

An innovative model of early ASD diagnosis in the primary care setting: Integrating clinical evaluation and biomarkers to improve diagnostic accuracy

PARC affiliates Dr. Brandon Keehn (PARC Associate Director, Purdue University) and Dr. Becca McNally (Indiana University School of Medicine) received a two-year research grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate an innovative model of early autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis that links community-based clinical evaluation with the assessment of biobehavioral markers in the primary care setting. Their results will be used to inform the further development and dissemination of integrative ASD diagnostic models that facilitate earlier and more accurate diagnosis, reduce sociocultural and geographic barriers to care, and accelerate entry into early intervention. Their long-term goal from this project is to transform individual patient care and shape how front-line clinicians provide early ASD diagnostic services, ultimately resulting in improved outcomes and lower lifetime costs for individuals with ASD and their families.
Dr. Keehn’s favorite part of this project so far has been taking his research out of the lab and into the community. According to Dr. Keehn, “One of our goals is always to translate what we do in the lab to the real world to improve the lives of children and families.  This project is really our first step in doing just that, so it is very exciting.”
This project involves many graduate and undergraduate students, including former Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences PhD student Dr. Girija Kadlaskar. According to Dr. Kadlaskar, “being a part of this work, I learned valuable clinical skills such as administering gold-standard assessments and providing feedback to families, which prepared me for my current role as a postdoctoral researcher at the MIND Institute.” 

A larger goal of this project is to reduce the disparities that exist in autism diagnosis.  This is a particular focus for postdoctoral fellow Dr. Ann Marie Martin working with Dr. McNally on this project. According to Dr. Martin, “As a member of this project, I gain additional training in health equity and translational research, which has shaped my career path to focus on reducing health disparities experienced by minoritized communities through a cross institutional collaborative approach.”

You can learn more about Dr. Keehn’s and McNally’s projects by visiting here or here

Read more about the team’s recent project here: https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2019-3876

Keehn study

Validating a Scalable, Open Science Framework for Collecting Laboratory-Grade Data Remotely in Specialized Populations

Telehealth-based data collection procedures may improve the representativeness and scope of research on individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. However, no standardized protocols exist to facilitate standardized, collaborative, telehealth-based research. To meet this need, PARC Director Dr. Bridgette Kelleher received a two-year award from the National Institutes of Health to develop and validate a comprehensive web-based training platform to support researchers to collect and process high-quality, laboratory-grade assessment data remotely. This platform, which is tuned toward the needs of rare disorder communities, aims to facilitate larger-scale, synchronized, and collaborative science.

“Open science is important to the future of our field, however we often lack the infrastructure necessary to make it happen” says Kelleher. “This project aims to provide free, collaborative tools to co-create the future of remote assessment, particularly for rare disorder communities.”

Learn more about Dr. Kelleher’s research by visiting the Kelleher Lab web site.

Read more about this project on the NIH web site, or by accessing the Kelleher lab’s recent publication on the topic.

Image: Dr. Kelleher’s team ships remote assessment activities to families affected by rare disorders such as Angelman and fragile X syndromes.

Keehn study

Neural Mechanisms of Predictive Impairments in Autism

Dr. Alex Chubykin received a five-year research grant from the National Institutes of Health to understand, at the circuit and systems level, how impairments of circuit connectivity may lead to changes in perception and learning in autism. His team is mapping the functional circuit connectivity in Fmr1 KO mice, a mouse model of Fragile X Syndrome, the most common inherited form of autism. They are also testing the hypothesis that autism is a disorder of prediction using in vitro circuit mapping, in vivo electrophysiology, and optogenetics in Fmr1 KO mice

Dr. Chubykin’s favorite part of this project so far has been the unique ability to combine in vivo and vivo electrophysiology to dissect the pathophysiology of autism. According to Dr. Chubykin, “One of the recent hypotheses is that autism is a disorder of prediction. The brain constantly makes predictions about future events based on previous history. In patients with autism, this function may be impaired.”

This project involves many graduate and undergraduate students across campus. Student Xi Cheng is a 5th year student. Her role on the project is to map the predictive coding circuitry in the primary visual cortex. Michael Zimmerman is a 4th year graduate student, and he is studying predictive impairments in Fmr1 KO mice in vivo.  

You can learn more about Dr. Chubykin’s projects by visiting the Chubykin Lab Web Site.

Learn more about Dr. Chubykin’s R01 project on the NIH web site.

Image: Close-up photo of a neuron in the primary visual cortex.

Keehn study

Addressing Special Education Teachers’ Implementation of Evidence-Based Behavioral Interventions: A Preliminary Evaluation of the Performance Diagnostic Checklist – Schools

PARC Student Affiliate, Amanda Borosh, received a competitive student research grant through the Association for Positive Behavior Support (APBS). This funding will be used to pilot a performance diagnostic tool used to identify specific barriers that prevent special education teachers from implementing evidence-based behavioral interventions for students with disabilities who engage in challenging behavior in the classroom. A myriad of barriers may impact special educators’ implementation fidelity of evidence-based practices in public schools. These barriers range from lack of access to relevant and sufficient professional development, limited or no opportunities for coaching and support from experts such as Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs), and a scarcity of materials (e.g., school supplies, consumable items like lamination and Velcro). Given the wide-array of potential barriers, school-based behavior consultants such as BCBAs, may benefit from an assessment that helps to specify these barriers and determine individualized interventions to improve implementation performance. The results of the diagnostic tool will be used to design individualized professional development and supports that address the specific barriers identified in the assessment.

Amanda shares, “I’m excited to test out this tool because of my own experience as a school-based behavior consultant. I’ve worked with many teachers who truly wanted to use evidence-based strategies to support their students, but couldn’t because of logistical barriers. I hope this tool can help other consultants to better support teachers.”

Amanda is a 3rd year doctoral student in special education. She is a licensed special education teacher and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. This project is mentored by Dr. Rose Mason (Purdue University) and Dr. Mandy Rispoli (University of Virginia). 

Image: Amanda presents a research poster on this topic at the Center for Exceptional Children Teacher Education Division Conference in 2022. Amanda was awarded the prize for “Outstanding Single-Case Research.”