Project Detail
Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) logo
Office of Autism Research Coordination (OARC) logo

Placental vascular tree as biomarker of autism/ASD risk  

Autism/ASD reflects a range of disordered and impaired brain development that leads to a lifelong course of behavioral and cognitive abnormalities. Diagnosis cannot formally be made prior to age two, and at this point there is a lack of behavioral and biologic markers that we can use to predict its onset. Early predictors could lead to early interventions which might significantly improve the lives of those affected. We intend to use the fact that the same biochemistry that controls the branching of nerves also controls branching of blood vessels. Unlike the nerve networks in the living human brain, the branching of the blood vessels in a child's placenta (which is generally discarded after birth without any examination) can be photographed and dissected. Our methods have expressly focused on capture of potentially key placental vascular features using equipment and procedures that could be performed at any hospital delivering a baby in the US. Thus, if successful, our work could lead to the routine examinations of placentas at birth to provide a noninvasive newborn screening test to identify children at high risk for developing autism/ASD. In this project we will measure the branching of larger blood vessels on the surface of the placenta (2D), the placental shape (which contains the placental vascular fractal), and the branching structure of the fine vessels of the thickness of the placenta (3D), and analyze the maternal medical and gestational factors that may have led to differences observed between the autism/ASD group, a group of children with other special educational needs, and healthy control children. We have developed and will apply new tools to analyze digital images of placental blood vessel branching, and the mathematics required to analyze the complex patterns of this placental branching architecture. In addition to its use as a biomarker, the application of these techniques has the potential both to clarify the pathologic anatomy of autism/ASD, and to determine when during pregnancy autism/ASD might have developed. Any model generated in a single population will require validation prior to its general use in public health screening. Collection of a new cohort, and confirmation of positive results from this study would likely be 3-5 years in the future (given needs for study recruitment, births, and diagnosis of children at ~ age two years). However, this research tool could be applied very quickly in current studies of high-autism risk siblings (HAR), such as the E.A.R.L.I. (PI, Craig Newschaffer, Ph.D.) and M.A.R.B.L.E.S. (PI: Cheryl Walker, M.D.) networks, both of which currently work closely with Dr. Salafia in placental analysis in autism/ASD, and could rapidly contribute to our understanding of likely pathways of disordered neurodevelopment in this highly heterogeneous spectrum of autism/ASD. Project Status


Funder Department of Defense
Fiscal Year Funding $0.00
Current Award Period 2010-2012
Project Number AR093103
Principal Investigator Salafia, Carolyn
Received ARRA Funding? No
Strategic Plan Question Question 1: When Should I Be Concerned? (Diagnosis)
Subcategory Early Signs and Biomarkers
Strategic Plan Objective Green dot: Objective has greater than or equal to the recommended funding. 1LA. Identify behavioral and biological markers that separately, or in combination, accurately identify, before age 2, one or more subtypes of children at risk for developing ASD, and evaluate whether these risk markers or profiles can improve early identification through heightened developmental monitoring and screening by 2014. IACC Recommended Budget: $33,300,000 over 5 years.
Federal or Private? Federal
Institution Research Foundation for Mental Hygiene, Inc.
State/Country New York
Web Link 1 Placental vascular tree as biomarker of autism/ASD risk (External web link)
Web Link 2 No URL available.
Web Link 3 No URL available.
History/Related Projects Placental vascular tree as biomarker of autism/ASD risk | $483,029.00 | 2009 | AR093103
Placental vascular tree as biomarker of autism/ASD risk | $0.00 | 2011 | AR093103
Placental vascular tree as biomarker of autism/ASD risk | $0.00 | 2012 | AR093103