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I am interested in childhood onset schizophrenia, pediatric bipolar and other psychotic disorders in children. I am currently working on a project which employs electrophysiology and genetics to search for different schizophrenia endophenotypes in this subset of the population. An endophenotype is a biomarker for a disorder and it is valuable to our understanding of the disorder because it is both heritable and state-independent. That is to say that if there is a genetic predisposition for schizophrenia in the family, this same biomarker, for example, a decrease in the amplitude of the P1 component of the EEG, will be present in the child that has already converted to schizophrenia, in their symptom-free parents, and in any siblings which may exhibit sub-threshold symptoms. It is imperative to study schizophrenia in such youngsters for three main reasons: 1) Childhood schizophrenia is not very well characterized, 2) There are no specific interventions or screening tools developed for schizophrenia in children, and 3) It is thought that those who develop schizophrenia early on in their lives do so because of a greater “genetic loading,” thus making them an optimal population for studying genetic components of this psychiatric disorder.
I am also working on a project aimed at identifying biological markers for speech impediments using a novel objective brain measure, developed by our group-- AESPA (Auditory Evoked Spread Spectrum Analysis). The AESPA is a neural response to uninterrupted natural speech. We will be using this measure in pre-lingual infants and toddlers, hoping to develop it to become a tool that can yield a much earlier diagnosis of speech disorders than standard clinical observational methods. By identifying these irregularities earlier on, the possibility for early intensive intervention becomes open and the child’s prognosis greatly improves. Currently parents usually take note of their child’s difficulty with language and seek medical attention at around age 3; if successful our measure maybe be effective at examining these difficulties in children as young as 6 months.
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