MSU researches studying MRIs to detect mental illnesses in babies

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EAST LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – The National Institutes of Health awarded a $5.5 million grant to Michigan State University researchers to conduct a new international study.

A team of MSU researchers will look at MRIs of babies to understand their genetics and the possible impact it could have on autism, schizophrenia, and ADHD.

Dr. Rebecca Knickmeyer is an associate professor in the College of Human Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics and Human Development, and the co-director for the Center for Research for Autism.

“The new project is focused on understanding how genetic variants shape early development,” said Dr. Knickermeyer.

She’s leading an international study to understand how a baby’s genetics could influence their likelihood of developing a mental health disorder.

They are doing this by looking at infant MRIs until the age of 6.

“One of the big ideas is could you combine ideas and imaging to identify people early on and if they need intervention early on,” said Knickermeyer.

Knickmeyer says they are doing two different things.

One is an exploratory analysis—that’s where they study new genes related to brain development.

The second part looks at genetic changes associated with schizophrenia and other brain disorders. They are studying what the changes look like earlier on in life.

Knickmeyer says people don’t get diagnosed with mental health disorders like schizophrenia until adulthood.

Their long-term goal is to help pediatricians diagnose a brain disorder during checkups.

“What we want to do is look at this over a period of time, and you can actually build like a growth curve just like you are when you take your kid to the pediatrician and they take their weight and there height and they show you that little chart with all the little lines showing your child is at the 50th percentile, or 90th percentile – and every time you go into the doctor they track that, right? To see if you stay on the same line, or if your kid goes up and down. We can do the same thing with the brain,” said Knickermeyer.

Dr. Knickmeyer says they have a long way to go before this is implimented into a doctor’s routine.

She hopes their research will make a positive change.

“It’s a really huge effort. We’ve been working together for several years to get the funding to do this. We had this vision and now it’s actually happening,” said Knickermeyer.

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