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Clinical Translational Core

Director: Aysenil Belger, Ph.D.
Co-Director: Gabriel S. Dichter, Ph.D.

The Clinical Translational Core includes services to maximize participation of research subjects in IDDRC projects (the Participant Registries), and services to support development of image processing tools, multi-modal brain imaging, EEG/ERP and eye tracking (the Brain Measurement Laboratories). The Core can provide expertise and resources for clinically-relevant insights into (1) early risk markers; (2) brain targets for therapeutics; (3) neural metrics characterizing the impact of intervention; and (4) brain mechanisms, leading to targeted approaches to intervention. The goals of the Core include recruitment and optimized utilization of research subjects for IDDRC clinical studies, and the provision of cutting-edge tools, services, resources, expert consultation and training in multi-modal brain measurement, including MRI/DTI/fMRI brain imaging, EEG/ERP and eye-tracking.

Research Participant Registries
The Registries facilitate the recruitment of subjects (individuals with developmental disorders and typically-developing subjects) for clinical studies led by IDDRC investigators. Registry staff contact and recruit research participants for 4 different databases: the Autism Registry, the Fragile X Registry, the Child Development Registry, and the General IDD Registry. Each registry includes information on individual demographics, medical history (including genetic syndrome and psychiatric history), and clinic-administered measures, such as IQ, adaptive behavior, and diagnostic instruments, to be used for identifying appropriate subjects for recruitment to particular studies. Each database also contains details necessary to identify subjects appropriate to studies with differing inclusion criteria. For example, studies on ASD may enroll participants based on IQ, family history (of ASD), history of ADOS administration, age and seizure history. In addition, because of difficulty identifying subjects with rare genetic syndromes, the Registries have established collaborative efforts with other research institutions to broaden recruitment success for IDDRC investigators.

Brain Measurement Laboratories
The Brain Measurement Laboratories provide critical support, including specialized infant/toddler EEG/ERP and eye tracking approaches, and expert consultation for MRI/DTI/fMRI methods, for studies measuring brain and brain-related characteristics. Martin Styner, Associate Director of this Core Lab, has made new processing and analysis tools, such as novel software developed for processing brain images from infants, available to numerous studies of developing human and non-human primate brain, throughout the country. The Brain Measurement Laboratories been instrumental for studies of early biomarkers (MRI, DTI, eye tracking, EEG) that could serve as predictors for later brain and behavioral abnormalities, as well as providing potential neurological indicators for tracking disorder outcomes.

The Developmental Electrophysiology Lab
Electrophysiology is particularly well-suited to investigate brain function in young children and low-functioning IDD populations. This laboratory provides assistance with study design, access to state-of-the-art EEG equipment, implementation of experimental protocols and support during EEG acquisition, design and programming of analysis pipelines for event-related potential spectral and time-frequency domain analysis, and assistance with handling, desensitizing, and managing infants and young children during EEG studies. The Core supports two EEG facilities, one on UNC campus, next to the Core imaging facilities and trainee offices, and a second system at an off-campus site, contiguous with the CIDD observation/clinical research rooms, with easy subject access and parking availability. These EEG facilities offer (1) two Electrical Geodesic Dense Array EEG Net Amplifier 300, for high-density EEG measurement, suitable for the infant/pediatric population; (2) a 64-channel NeuroScan SynAmps RT Amplifier with an active license for SCAN 4 Software for Neuroscan, (3) a 32-channel SynampsII Neuroscan system, and (4) a 64-channel Biosemi system.

Eye-tracking Studies
The Core offers IDDRC investigators access to sophisticated eye-tracking equipment, which provides a non-invasive method for exploring the behavioral correlates of brain function and maturation. An increasing number of ongoing studies are also integrating eye-tracking with functional imaging at the MRI scanners, both to control for eye-movement and fixation, as well as to explore the behavioral correlates of neural impairments in attention deployment in autism and schizophrenia. The Core includes two TOBII eye tracker systems (120Hz and a 60Hz) that can be used in studies with subjects across the age span, from infancy to adulthood.

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