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Research at Mass General
Ask us about our clinical research study about early signs of Autism. Open our infant sibling study flier.
OverviewAutism Spectrum Disorders are rapidly reaching epidemic proportions in the United States and throughout the world. While there is evidence that some of those on the autism spectrum show abnormalities in their genetic make-up, it is becoming clear that other factors are involved in the burgeoning number of cases we see each year.
By providing an integrated stream of brain and body laboratory studies, TRANSCEND aims to systematically turn clinical assessment and treatment into data for research that will maximize the help we can give to each patient.
We believe that every individual with autism experiences social, emotional and medical challenges that deserve assessment and study to uncover every possible avenue of assistance, both for that individual and for those with similar difficulties. At the same time, each individual with autism is unique, and deserves personalized care.
With our growing network of collaborators we “transcend” the separation between isolated silos of knowledge and integrate together the many levels of autism into a coherent and synergistic framework.
Integration of brain and body with genetic biomarkers to allow an individualized understanding of autism is a totally unique approach to diagnosis, research and treatment. When we place this model into a clinical setting it allows us to treat each facet of autism in its own terms, and at the same time learn how these interventions impact the whole person. This approach goes straight to the “biological ground zero” of the everyday reality of autism. It represents a model for truly effective 21st century systems clinical science for ASD.
TRANSCEND is approaching the diagnosis and treatment of ASD and developmental disabilities with the intent to:
The TRANSCEND program is based at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging in Charlestown, and in Lexington. The path-breaking Lurie Center for Autism—part of the MassGeneral Hospital for Children—has an office in the same building.Established under the leadership of Dr. Martha Herbert, the TRANSCEND program was initiated to explore possible abnormalities in the brains and bodies of children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
TRANSCEND is unique because:
Our program includes:
TRANSCEND’s partners work from a model of autism that describes a complex whole body condition with many treatable facets.
Brain as part of the body
Brain and body problems in autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders and how they develop
TRANSCEND partners believe that while genes, brain and behavior are important in autism, if we want to help people now we need a more complete model.
TRANSCEND focuses on the the relationships of brain and body because we believe that this will help us move more quickly to finding more ways to help people have better quality of life. Observant clinicians know that if we can make our “body machine” work better, behavior and cognition often improve along the way.
What we measure:
Where we measure it:
The TRANSCEND trademark is to integrate these measures and root them in a practical approach to the whole person.
Partnership in Research
TRANSCEND is a network of like-minded researchers and clinicians devoted to pooling and integrating brain and body knowledge and research to help people with autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders. Partnering in all research and treatment efforts will speed our progress toward understanding how best to help and support each person with ASD and everyone in their lives.
Doctors, Scientists and Staff
TRANSCEND key personnel, who span multiple disciplines, are united by a commitment to addressing the biological features of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs). By pursuing multiple dimensions of measurement in a coordinated fashion, and by drawing upon biological as well as psychological clinical observation in formulating hypotheses, we believe that we will be able to
MARTHA HERBERT, Ph.D., M.D. (Program Director; MRI and Biomarkers)Dr. Martha Herbert, is an Assistant Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, a Pediatric Neurologist with subspecialty certification in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, a Principal Investigator and a member of the MGH Center for Morphometric Analysis, and an affiliate of the Harvard-MIT-MGH Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging. She earned her medical degree at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. She trained in Pediatrics at Cornell University Medical Center and in Neurology and Child Neurology at the Massachusetts General Hospital, where she has remained. Prior to her medical training she obtained a doctoral degree at the University of California, Santa Cruz, studying evolution and development of learning processes in biology and culture in the History of Consciousness program, and then did postdoctoral work in the philosophy and history of science. This work has influenced her current orientation toward systems biology, brain connectivity and brain-body interrelationships. In 2004 she received the first Cure Autism Now Innovator Award; she directs the Cure Autism Now Foundation's Brain Development Initiative. She is the Co-Chair of the Environmental Health Advisory Board of the Autism Society of America. Her research program includes studying what makes some autistic brains unusually large, how the parts of the brain are connected and coordinated with each other, and how we can develop measure sensitive to changes in brain and body function that could result from treatment interventions.
TAL KENET, Ph.D. (MEG, Scientific Director)Dr. Tal Kenet is an Instructor at Harvard Medical School and a Principal Investigator in the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Neurology. She is also affiliated with the Harvard-MGH Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH-Charlestown. Dr. Kenet obtained her HMS/MGH faculty appointment in September 2005, following her post doctoral training with Dr. Michael Merzenich at UCSF. She has extensive training and knowledge in systems neuroscience, with particular expertise in sensory processing. Dr. Kenet’s PhD work has become seminal in the field, as she was the first to show, using electrophysiological techniques, that the visual cortex rehearses functionally significant patterns in the absence of external inputs. During her post doctoral training, Dr. Kenet extended her expertise on sensory processing by studying the auditory cortex, and in particular the processes that may lead to abnormal development of auditory cortex in the rat model. Subsequently she became interested in autism and in the merits of MEG, and successfully applied for a Young Investigator Award from the Cure Autism Now foundation and from the MIND Institute at UC Davis. These awards enabled her to pursue a study of auditory processing in children with autism at the MEG lab at UCSF, where she has successfully used the technique in over 20 children with autism and 20 age matched controls (ages 7-12). Since moving to MGH she has used MEG successfully with both visual and auditory stimulation on several children and adults, both with and without autism. Dr. Kenet also has extensive experience with designing and implementing experimental protocols focusing primarily on sensory processing.
KATHERINE MARTIEN, M.D. (EEG, Clinical Research Director)Dr. Katherine Martien is a Principal Investigator and a Neurodevelopmental Pediatrician with subspecialty certification in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities with the Lurie Center for Autism (formerly the Learning and Developmental Disabilities Evaluation and Rehabilitation Services Clinic), an outpatient clinic of the Massachusetts General Hospital located in Wellesley. Educated at Mount Holyoke College and the Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Martien did her internship and residency at Boston Children’s Hospital. After practicing primary care pediatrics at the M.I.T. Health Service for 10 years, she spent the next five years at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto where she did further fellowship training in Developmental Pediatrics, Neurology and Epilepsy and began clinical research on autism and on the relationship between autism and epilepsy.
JEROME KAGAN Ph.D. (EEG, Developmental Psychology)Dr. Jerome Kagan is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. His research has addressed the maturation of cognitive competences, temperamental factors in personality development, and moral development. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has been honored as making a distinguished contribution to science by the American Psychological Association and The Society for Research in Child Development. He is the author of 12 books and over 250 empirical papers.
MATTHEW ANDERSON, M.D., Ph.D. (Translational Research)Dr. Matthew P. Anderson is an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School, a Principal Investigator and Associate Neuropathologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and a Visiting Scientist in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a former Neuroscience Fellow of Dr. Susumu Tonegawa, Nobel Laureate, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. He received his degrees at Cornell University and the University of Iowa, and his medical specialty training was obtained at Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital and Children’s Hospital, Boston, MA. He is board certified in Neuropathology and Anatomic Pathology. Dr. Anderson is a past recipient of an Independent Scientists Award from the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Strokes, a Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Mental Health, a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award in the Biomedical Sciences, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Research Fellowship for Physicians Award and the International Distinguished Dissertation Award, Council of Graduate Schools.
MATTHEW BEMONTE, Ph.D. (EEG, MRI and Informatics)Dr. Matthew Belmonte is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Development at Cornell University. His work for the past decade and a half has addressed autism using techniques of quantitative EEG and fMRI, and has cut across subdisciplines and ideologies in the neuroscience of autism. His education and experience are wide-ranging and integrative: his postgraduate training took place in the laboratories of Eric Courchesne at UCSD, focusing on EEG, MRI morphometric and behavioural studies of attention in autism, and Deborah Yurgelun-Todd at McLean Hospital, focusing on cognitive fMRI studies. His postdoctoral work took place with Simon Baron-Cohen at Cambridge, combining his past experience in low-level studies of attention and perception with a new focus on methods of investigating high-level social cognition. Initially educated as a computer scientist, Dr. Belmonte spent two years programming visual neuroscience experiments at the New York University Center for Neural Science and a year on computational psychoacoustics in private industry, and developed nonparametric statistical methods for fMRI and EEG data analysis in time and frequency domains. Much of Dr. Bemonte’s attention has been devoted to combining expertise and unifying subdisciplines. He has authored several collaborative papers on abnormal neural connectivity as a biological theme around which to unify disparate psychological theories, physiological results, and genetic findings, and on how to overcome technical and social obstacles to data sharing. Dr. Belmonte is the brother and uncle of two people with autism, and has served on the Scientific Review Council of Cure Autism Now.
PHILIP GRIEVE, Ph.D. (EEG Eoherence Analyses) Dr. Philip Grieve is an Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Pediatrics in the Division of Neonatology, Department of Pediatrics at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Dr. Grieve's laboratory pursues studies of infant brain development through measurements of brain electrical activity with the electroencephalogram (EEG). The laboratory has two portable 128 lead EEG recording machines that are used in bedside studies. Dr. Grieve's focus is the perinatal period and utilizes recordings from fetal primates, premature and full term infants, and young children. With custom data processing, he is able to deduce the brain's functional connectivity and relate its alterations to medical risk factors for adverse outcome. Dr. Grieve has over 8 publications in this area of research.
JOSEPH ISLER, Ph.D. (ERP Coherence Analyses) Joseph Isler is a geophysicist and software engineer who is now an Associate Research Scientist in the Department of Pediatrics at Columbia University where he is working on a career development award in quantitative EEG analysis. Hs work focuses on analysis of pediatric EEG and ERP data.
ROSALIND PICARD, Ph.D. (Miniaturized autonomic nervous system monitoring equipment; Affective computing) Dr. Rosalind W. Picard is founder and director of the Affective Computing Research Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Laboratory and co-director of the Things That Think Consortium, the largest industrial sponsorship organization at the lab. Prior to completing her doctorate at MIT, she was a Member of the Technical Staff at AT&T Bell Laboratories where she designed VLSI chips for digital signal processing and developed new methods of image compression and analysis. She was honored as a Fellow of the IEEE in 2005. The author of over a hundred peer-reviewed scientific articles in multidimensional signal modeling, computer vision, pattern recognition, machine learning, and human-computer interaction, Picard is known internationally for pioneering research in affective computing and, prior to that, for pioneering research in content-based image and video retrieval. She is recipient (with Tom Minka) of a best paper prize for work on machine learning with multiple models (1998) and is recipient (with Barry Kort and Rob Reilly) of a "best theory paper" prize for their work on affect in human learning (2001). Her award-winning book, Affective Computing, (MIT Press, 1997) lays the groundwork for giving machines the skills of emotional intelligence. She and her students have designed and developed a variety of new sensors, algorithms, and systems for sensing, recognizing, and responding respectfully to human affective information, with applications in human and machine learning, health, and human-computer interaction.
MATTHEW GOODWIN, Ph.D. (Intensive monitoring study design and data analysis methodologies)Matthew Goodwin has over a decade of experience working with individuals with ASD, their teachers, and parents at the Groden Center, a non-profit educational and treatment center for persons with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities located in Providence, Rhode Island. He has an exemplary track record successfully gathering physiological data via controlled experiments with both adults and children on the autism spectrum. His doctoral dissertation includes a discussion of the importance of intensive multidisciplinary characterization of individuals on the autism spectrum, and explicates the distinction between nomothetic and idiographic research methodologies and rationales. He and the Groden Center have developed an ongoing collaboration with Dr. Rosalind Picard at the MIT Media Lab, since their autism and psychology research methodology expertise complements the technology expertise of the MIT Media Lab, and will help the combined team to shape the technologies in ways that truly make a significant difference for advancing understanding of affective and stress related components of autism, and hopefully lead to better basic scientific understanding as well as practical interventions.
DAVID HOLTZMAN, MD, PHD. (Mitochondrial metabolism and magnetic spectroscopy imaging). David Holtzman is a an Associate Professor of Neurology and a pediatric neurologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital who specializes in metabolic diseases and mitochondrial diseases. He received his degrees from the University of Chicago, where he trained in medicine and as a biochemist. His research has included investigations of energetics in neurological disorders and recently of functional mitochondrial abnormalities in autism.
LORIN WILDE, Ph.D. (Electrical engineering, speech and language technologies)|Lorin Wilde has been a Research Affiliate at the MIT Research Laboratory of Electronics since completing a doctorate there in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) in 1995.She has applied a multi-disciplinary background in Electrical Engineering, Software Engineering, Artificial Intelligence, Speech and Hearing Sciences, and Psychology to designing speech user interfaces and building assistive devices for the communicatively impaired. She is Chief Technology Officer of Wilder Communications, Inc., which was founded in 1999 to develop novel uses of speech technology. Dr. Wilde is a nationally certified Clinical Audiologist who served as Assistant Editor of the Handbook of Clinical Audiology (1981-1985) and initiated clinical research, while providing direct diagnostic and habilitative services at The Children's Hospital in Boston. She has continued to consult on collaborative research projects in the area of speech and language disorders. She has also been a lecturer at the MIT Media Laboratory, Northeastern University, and Boston University.
ALICE ARMSTRONG, PhD. (Neuropsychology) Alice Armstrong is a Clinical Neuropsychologist with experience as a School Psychologist and clinical work in the Psychiatry and Occupational Health departments of Strong Memorial Hospital, University of Rochester Medical Center. She earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Wayne State University in Detroit, and has experience working in both urban and rural environments. Her post-doctoral experience included work with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Center in the Toxicology department at the University of Rochester, where her duties included the Coordinator of Community Outreach. Her research publications and interests include functional assessment and the evaluation of environmental toxins on human learning and behavior. A former Toastmaster, she also has experience teaching and training. She has managerial experience providing services to students of all ages (The Tutor Center and The Career Center) for a major academic publisher. She is an active volunteer in local arts organizations, and also has served on disaster response teams.
JUNG SUH, MPH, Ph.D. (Metabolomics) Jung Suh is a post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Bruce Ames at the Children’s Hospital of Oakland Research Institute. He received his MPH from Boston University and received his PhD for work performed in the Linus Pauling Institute in Oregon, with a Ph.D. thesis entitled "Antioxidant mechanisms of ascorbate and (R)-alpha-lipoic acid: aging and transition metal ion-mediated oxidative stress." Dr. Suh’s collaboration with TRANSCEND involves performing metabolomic assays of sulfur amino acid metabolism and oxidative stress.
Annette Robichaud, MSW M.Ed., senior research coordinator, comes to the TRANSCEND team with many years of expererience in senior administration, grants management, budget, and human resources, as well as training in education and experience with autistic children.
Nandita Shetty, MS, is a magnetic resonance neuroimaging engineer with academic and corporate experience in scanning, sequence optimization and imaging analysis. Ms. Shetty coordinates the implementation of multimodal imaging acquisition and analysis.
Emily Israeli, MS, is a graduate of MIT with a Masters in engineering who works on analysis of MEG and EEG data. With her considerable expertise in complex signal processing, she helps to implement many of our intricate analyses of the EEG and MEG data.
Alyssa Orinstein, BA, is a research coordinator and psychometrician involved with cognitive and behavioral data collection and support of our subjects for our MRI and MEG imaging studies.
Nikki Mirabella, BA, is an EEG technologist and psychometrician involved with cognitive and behavioral data collection and EEG/ERP data acquisition.
The goal of TRANSCEND is to give every patient the opportunity to teach us important things about their ASD. We
offer each patient the opportunity to participate in clinical research and will make every effort to offer patients who come through the Lurie Center for Autism an opportunity for available assessments that are appropriate for them.
For More Information
If you would like to learn more about our studies, please call our Study Intake Coordinator at 617-966-9766 or email TRANSCEND@partners.org.
Location of Studies
MRI, and MEG studies take place at the Charlestown Navy Yard (Massachusetts General Hospital’s research campus). The EEG studies take place at our Lexington site, which also houses the Lurie Center for Autism and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital programs. Screening visits usually take place at our Charlestown Site but sometimes take place in Lexington.
149 13th StreetCharlestown, MA 02129
1 Maguire RoadLexington, MA 02421
To take part in our studies you need to be screened to see if you or your child qualifies. Here are the Steps in our research studies:
These methods are considered entirely safe technologies. Risks may include boredom or restlessness. People who experience claustrophobia should not volunteer for the MRI study. There are no known side effects of the MRI, MEG, or EEG.
We also have a BIOMARKERS study, to measure metabolism, immune function and other systemic biology. We have received funding to do a multisystem (behavior, medical, nervous system) study of infants at high risk for autism (if they have an older sibling with autism). Please stay tuned for further information. We hope to start around the beginning of 2009.
The purpose of the screening visit is to determine which of our studies may be appropriate for your child. Your child will be evaluated by an examiner with special experience with children. There will also be questionnaires for the parent or legal guardians. The results of the screening will allow us to tell you what studies might be appropriate for your child.
Once your child is found to be eligible to be in one or more of our studies we will perform more evaluations, depending on the needs of the specific study. These further evaluations will be in order to get to know your child better, which will help us answer our research questions. The results will tell us about your child’s reasoning, language, motor, and play skills. The visit may last about 2 hours (or more for some studies). If your child needs more time to finish, you can come back for an extra visit.
For this study, we will be using an MRI scanner to take pictures of the brain. An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is a safe, non-invasive method that uses the strength of a magnetic field to obtain pictures from the inside of body. People who take part in this study need to be able to stay still for about half an hour to an hour (with some breaks if necessary).
We will help prepare you or your child for the MRI by some combination of listening to the sounds it produces, practicing being in a model of a scanner, and playing games that are about being in the scanner.
For this study, we will use the MEG machine (MagnetoEncephaloGram) to measure the magnetic brain waves your child’s brain creates as it works. We will present your child with sounds through earphones, with things to look at on a screen, or with taps on the fingers. We will learn a lot by seeing how your child’s brain responds to these kinds of stimulations.
An MEG is a safe, non-invasive method used to measure brain waves. It does not emit any magnetic fields, it only measures them.
An EEG (ElectroEncephaloGram) helps us learn about how your child’s brain works by measuring the tiny electrical signals that come through the scalp to the outside of the head. EEG is safe and very commonly used in small children and even newborn babies. We use an EEG net because it is easy to put on. This makes it more conmfortable, greatly reduces the time we need to to place the electrodes and enhances localization of brainwave activity.
During the EEG, your child will watch a muted video, and then look at other things on a computer screen, such as light flashes and images. Your child will also hear various sounds from speakers. While this is going on, your child needs to sit still as much as possible. We will ask them to be still if they are old enough to understand and able to try to cooperate. If they are small they can sit in the parent’s lap.
TRANSCEND is starting a biomarker program to measure metabolic and immune markers in blood and urine, in order to learn about the relationship between body changes and the brain changes we are studying. Participants in some of our brain studies will have the opportunity to contribute to this innovative and integrative line of research.
Martha Herbert, MD, PhD: Selected Publications
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