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UNC Autism Paper Makes Top 10 List

Mark Shen, PhD, at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities, was first author on a scientific paper last November that Autism Speaks named as one of the top 10 research papers in 2018.

The science staff and advisors for Autism Speaks, a leading advocacy group for people with autism spectrum disorder and their families, highlighted the 2018 studies that most powerfully advanced our understanding, treatment, and support of people on the autism spectrum.

On the list this year is a paper published in Lancet Psychiatry in November by first author Mark Shen, PhD, research assistant professor at the Carolina Institute of Developmental Disabilities (CIDD) and in the department of psychiatry.

The study, titled “Extra-axial cerebrospinal fluid in high-risk and normal risk children with autism aged 2-4 years: a case-control study,” enrolled 159 children with autism, ages 2 to 4, and found that, as a group, the children with autism had increased cerebrospinal fluid around the brain compared to a group of typically developing children the same age.

It is the third independent study to document this association between autism and increased fluid around the brain, as seen with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The earlier studies looked at infants in families already affected by autism. They found the increased fluid appeared by 6 months of age in babies who would go on to be diagnosed with autism. The earlier studies showed the increased fluid persisting until at least 24 months of age. The new study extends this finding to age 4 years.

Taken together these studies are of great interest because recent research on cerebrospinal fluid has found that it does more than provide a protective cushion between the brain and skull. It also bathes the brain and helps remove inflammatory cells and other metabolic products that may affect brain development.

This is the second year in a row one of Shen’s papers made the Autism Speaks top 10 list. Two other papers made the list last year as well. Last year, Shen earned a young investigator award for his innovative autism research.

Read more about the Autism Speaks 2018 top ten list.

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