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Research in the ABC Study

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The ABC Study is the foundation for a variety of research projects where we have received grants from the Research Council of Norway, Health South East, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and other institutions.

The ABC Study is the foundation for a variety of research projects where we have received grants from the Research Council of Norway, Health South East, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and other institutions.


Causes of autism

Data from the ABC Study and MoBa have been used to investigate potential causes of autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

The project focuses on three main areas: (1) how maternal use of folic acid (folate) in pregnancy can affect the risk of autism in the child, (2) compare growth curves of children with autism (head circumference and length) to children with typical development, and (3) investigate how parental obesity can affect the risk of autism in the child.

The project is funded by the Research Council of Norway (project number 190694) and is covered by approvals under the ABC study.

Clinical features of autism

Data from the ABC study and MoBa have been used to identify children with autism using screening (searching for symptoms) at 18 months of age, and which traits are reported by the parents as early signs of autism. Another part of the project examines the proportion of children with autism that experience a loss of skills. In addition, language skills at 18 and 36 are studied in children with and without language difficulties.

The project is funded by the Research Council of Norway (project number 196452) and is covered by approvals under the ABC study.

Emotional aspects of autism

Children with autism have a high incidence of anxiety, ADHD and behavioural disorders. These conditions are associated with reduced function, quality of life and treatment effect. In addition, these problems complicate clinical assessment and are often treated with medication. Little is known about how autism symptoms relate to difficulties with emotions and behaviour, or about factors that contribute to additional diagnoses and drug therapy.

The purpose of this project is to examine emotional and behavioural function among children with ASD, compared to children with other conditions and children with typical development. We also want to identify factors affecting the interventions that these children receive, compared with children with anxiety, ADHD and behavioural disorders.

In this project we combine information from MoBa and the ABC Study with the Norwegian Patient Registry (NPR) and the Norwegian Prescription Database (NorPD). NPR provides information about diagnoses and treatment and NorPD provides information about dispensed medicines. Any personal information is removed and replaced with code numbers before research analyses can begin.

The project is funded by Health South East (project number 2012101) and is approved by the Regional Committee for Medical and Health Research Ethics South East (REK) with case number 2013/201. The study has a licence from the Norwegian Data Protection Authority for coupling with the NorPD, case number 13/156.

Hereditary factors of autism

An important discovery made recently is that autism is linked to genetic changes that are rare individually, but when combined contribute to a significant proportion of autism cases. Many of these genetic changes are new (de novo mutations). That means they occur in the child, but not in the parents. These mutations may have occurred in the gametes of one or both parents and maybe in early pregnancy. In many cases, we suspect an interaction between genes and the environment (for example, dietary factors, infections, smoking) as causal to disease. It is difficult to identify the causes of autism without studying both factors together.

In collaboration with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in England, this research project has analysed blood samples from the ABC study to identify genetic variants that alone, or combined with various environmental factors, may increase the risk of autism. The project also collaborates with the Autism Sequencing Consortium, which is a large international collaboration that aims to discover genetic variants which may explain causes and identify potential targets for future drug treatment.

The project is funded by the Research Council of Norway (project number 185476) and is processed and approved by REK with case number 2012/138.

Infection and immunity in autism

The immune system is a complex system of cells and neurotransmitters. Its main task is to protect against infections and to monitor and remove cancer cells that appear spontaneously. Sometimes the immune system attacks the body's own cells, which is called autoimmunity. Some recent research findings suggest that altered immunity in the mother during pregnancy and / or the child, for example following an infection, may contribute to the development of autism in the child.

In this research project we analyse blood samples from participants in the ABC Study to investigate their immune status and indications of infection. Results from these laboratory analyses, together with information from questionnaires and health registries, will lay the foundation for the study of how environmental factors (such as diet, infection and smoking) can affect the immune system and thereby the child's development. The aim is to identify factors in the blood that can be used to diagnosis autism, and identify environmental factors that can be influenced to prevent autism.

The project is funded by Columbia University, NINDS and the Research Council of Norway. The project is processed and approved by REK with case number 2011/502.

Vitamins and autism

The ABC Study has found that the risk of having a child with autism is reduced if the mother takes folate supplements in early pregnancy. Folate is an example of a small molecule that is necessary for the body's ability to function properly. Cells need folate to build and repair DNA. Vitamins are therefore examples of environmental factors that can affect the health of mothers and their children.

In this research project, we analysed blood samples from participants in the ABC Study to map levels of several vitamins and other molecules ingested through diet. The purpose is to investigate whether these could influence the risk of a child developing autism.

The project is funded by the Research Council of Norway (project number 196452), NINDS through the ABC study and the University of Bergen. The project is processed and approved by REK with case number 2012/2276.

National and international registry studies about autism

This research project will compile information from Norwegian registries to determine how heredity and environmental factors affect the risk of developing autism through several generations. Information will be retrieved from the Norwegian Patient Registry, the Medical Birth Registry, Statistics Norway, Cause of Death Registry and the National Registry.

Through this project we will participate in an international research network, MiNERVA, where data from other countries will be used to examine the same elements as in Norwegian data.

The project is funded by the National Institutes of Health, USA, and is in the process of applying for approval from the REK.