University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey Center for Childhood Neurotoxicology and Assessment

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The main focus of the UMDNJ Children's Center, established in 2002, is to examine the effects of environmental chemicals on neurological health and development, with an emphasis on the interaction between exposure to environmental factors, learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Investigators at the UMDNJ Children's Center have developed important basic and clinical science data, which has had a significant impact in the field.

The causes and contributing factors for ASD are poorly understood. Evidence suggests that incidence of ASD is increasing, now estimated at 1 in every 150 births, and the rate is higher for male children. Most cases seem likely to arise from a combination of an ever increasing array of genetic factors and additional environmental factors, while diagnostic changes and improvements may also be contributing to the increased rates.

Projects at the UMDNJ Children's Center include developing animal models of features of autism such as regression of neurobehavioral function or self-injurious behavior, and developing animal models mimicking the genes linked to autism in humans. Through clinical studies of children with autism, the UMDNJ Center is also examining whether certain biochemical and genetic characteristics of autistic children, demonstrate that select children with autism have increased susceptibility to chemical induced neurobehavioral dysfunction. such as loss of neurobehavioral function may be related to exposure to environmental neurotoxins, perhaps in combination with specific genetic predispositions, creating a gene-environment interaction. With the identification of the genetic and biochemical susceptibility factors the goal will be to develop individualized therapeutic interventional strategies. The overall mission of the Center is to improve the environmental and public health of children through research, assessment, treatment and outreach.

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