Neurodevelopmental disability affects more than 12% newborns. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) alone develops in 1 in 68 children in US. The only effective treatment available is through early therapeutic intervention. Early identification of children at risk for neurodevelopment disorders is critical to ensure affected children receive prompt treatment. However, the current standard screening methods are based on parent reporting and behavioral observation, which cannot reliably identify neurodevelopmental disorders at a young age. As a result, many affected children cannot receive intervention in a timely manner. Therefore, there is an urgent need for more effective ways to monitor normal neurodevelopmental progress in infants and toddlers. In this project, the investigators aim to address this unmet need by developing technologies based on pupillary light reflex (PLR) for early screening of neurodevelopmental disorders in young children. PLR is a simple, fast and non-invasive test that can reveal a multitude of information about the brain. Recent studies have revealed that PLR is abnormal in children with neurodevelopmental disorders. The investigators will first develop an advanced imaging system to enable precise PLR test in infants and toddlers. In addition, new data analysis methods will be developed to obtain accurate neurological information from the PLR data. If successful, this project will lead to a technology that can benefit millions of children affected by neurodevelopmental disorders to ensure they are diagnosed and treated in time. Graduate and undergraduate students will be trained in this highly interdisciplinary project. The investigators will also integrate this research into their teaching to help train next generation of scientist and engineers with strong capabilities in solving interdisciplinary problems.
The overall goal of this project is to develop an objective neurological measure based on pupillary light reflex (PLR) for early screening of neurodevelopmental disorders in infants. American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that more than 12% children are born with a neurodevelopmental disability that will require medical, educational and special services remediation. In particular, autism spectrum disorder ("ASD", a group of neurodevelopmental disorders) alone develops in every 1 out of 68 children in US. Early identification of children at risk for neurodevelopment disorders is critical for a prompt diagnosis and early intervention. However, current screening practice relies on parent reporting and behavioral observation which suffers from poor accuracy and sensitivity. Pupillary light reflex (PLR) is a simple functional neurological test that measures the pupil size changes in response to a short light flash. Recent studies have shown that PLR may have the potential to be used as an objective biomarker for the early identification of neurodevelopmental disorders. In this project, the investigators aim to develop several key enabling technologies for applying PLR in young children. A portable pupillary imaging system will be designed and constructed for accurate measurement of transient PLR responses in infants and toddlers without the need of any physical constraint or contact to the subject. The proposed system incorporates a fast tracking component that can remotely track the subject's movement and redirect the high resolution pupil imaging system to acquire PLR. In addition, a physiological model of the PLR will be developed by constructing an iris muscle model with neural inputs from different branches of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The specific parasympathetic and sympathetic modulations will be extracted by numerically fitting this model to the experimental PLR data. Such specific neurological information is important for better clinical diagnosis and treatment because ANS dysfunction is common in neurodevelopmental disorders. Furthermore, these new technologies will be applied in a pilot study to evaluate the use of PLR for monitoring typical neurodevelopment in infants. Integrated with these research activities, educational activities are proposed to train next generation of scientist and engineers with strong capabilities in solving interdisciplinary problems.