The regional autism database was created in January 2015. It embodies a strong belief that scientific and clinical advances in autism research will happen only through inter-disciplinary work involving scientists and clinicians from a variety of different specialties (genetics, neuroscience, psychiatry, neurology, psychology, molecular biology, and computer science) who need to combine their expertise and study the same children.
With this in mind, the different faculty members involved in the center have incorporated their students and research assistants into the autism clinic at Soroka Medical Center, which is located right across the street from BGU.
Soroka is the only major medical center in the entire Negev (southern district of Israel). It services a population of close to one million people who belong to diverse ethnic groups including Jews of Sephardic, Ethiopian, Russian, and West European descent and a large Arab Bedouin population.
Approximately 200 children are referred to Soroka medical center annually with a suspicion of autism. All of these children complete cognitive and ADOS assessments as well as two additional clinical observations, before a final diagnosis is established. This give the scientific staff who are incorporated in the clinic ample opportunity to recruit families to the database effort, which involves filling out several questionnaires (e.g., sleep habits and sensory profile questionnaires) and allowing the research team to examine existing clinical records of the affected child and family members that are available in the Soroka medical center patient record system. Since Soroka is the only medical center in southern Israel, over 90% of the children who receive an autism diagnosis at Soroka were also born at Soroka, thereby enabling us to extract extensive clinical information regarding the pregnancy, birth, and early life history of affected children. Families who join the database are then asked to also participate in further data collection stages, which include saliva samples for genetic sequencing, eye tracking experiments, overnight EEG exams, collection of blood samples for metabolic assessments, and MRI scans. These additional stages of data collection are in different phases of completion as we build our infrastructure capabilities.
The current cohort includes data from approximately 300 children and families. By carefully collecting a wide variety of data from these and additional families over the next several years, we will be able to create one of the most comprehensive autism databases in the world. Taking advantage of the centralized healthcare services in Soroka we will be able to relate behavioral assessments, birth records, clinical records, eye tracking exams, sleep EEG recordings, structural and functional MRI scans, genetic sequencing (of children, parents, and siblings), and hormonal and metabolic levels during different periods of development. We believe that this will enable us to “connect the dots” and identify distinct types of biological problems that cause the development of autism in different children.