CBC’s The National Profiles NeuroDevNet Autism Researchers and Their Work

October 26, 2016

Researchers’ drive towards cracking the genetic code for autism is the subject of a new documentary produced by CBC’s the National. A program that premiered October 25 featured the $50 million MSSNG project, headed by NeuroDevNet Autism Research co-lead Dr. Stephen Scherer. The largest genomic study in the world, MSSNG's goal is to provide answers surrounding the causes and diversity of symptoms in autism.

Based at Toronto’s SickKids Research Institute, and funded by Autism Speaks, MSSNG has collected genome sequences from 7,000 participants, and aspires to analyze the genomes of 10,000 families by the end of 2016.
“We already know from preliminary data that there are over 100 forms of autism,” says Dr. Scherer, who describes MSSNG as his dream project. “We have to put all these little pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together, and right now we’ve got the outside of the puzzle and all the pieces. We just have to figure out how they piece together.”

Structured through the lens of two families raising children with autism – Lucia (5) and Zane (14) – and, the CBC, story highlights the persisting questions parents have, and the urgency they feel.

“To know why she is the way she is doesn’t change much, but it helps the fight of being able to find out what we can do next,” Lucia’s mother says of MSSNG. “How do we get her help? How do we get her to that next level so she can be an independent adult in the future? That’s what’s important.”

“There’s two parts to the autism spectrum and this kind of research,” adds Zane’s father. “There’s researchers doing what they can in hard science, and then there’s the day-to-day reality of how we live with Zane and how we raise him, and what we have to do to make him independent. Those are very separate things.”

NeuroDevNet’s Autism Research Program led by Dr. Scherer and Dr. Lonnie Zwaigenbaum, has made research with the potential to enhance quality of life a priority. Multiple studies of interventions for children and youth with autism from toddlerhood through the teen years are ongoing, as well as genetic and genomic projects aimed at driving the capacity to diagnose autism into infancy, opening the door for critical early interventions.

“Equally important is to identify new targets, to identify rational drug designs,” adds Dr. Scherer. “There are no medicines that can actually be used effectively for the core features of autism.”

Profiles of programs such as Social ABCs, a parent or early childhood educator-based intervention that encourages language and social development; MYmind, a study evaluating the use of mindfulness to reduce stress among youth with ASD and their families and ASD Voices, a family support project focusing on teens with autism.

A follow-up video by the CBC focuses on both the evidence for early intervention and examples of treatments. Dr. Jessica Brian, the lead of the Social ABCs project is interviewed.

Watch the full videos here:
MSSNG feature

Parent-led intervention

Read more about our Autism Spectrum Disorder Program and projects in “Renewal” our 2015-16 Annual Report.