Research Makes a World of Difference

Psychiatrist Joseph Piven, M.D., is director of the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities. He leads a group of researchers at UNC using MRI scans to predict whether babies with autistic siblings will also develop autism. This research may make it possible to diagnose autism prior to 24 months of age. Clinicians can take action before the infant’s brain begins to change due to the disorder, possibly improving treatment options and ultimately the child’s quality of life. He and colleagues from across the University have made UNC the world’s premier public university for autism research.

“We haven’t had a way to detect the biomarkers of autism before the condition sets in and symptoms develop,” said Dr. Piven. “Now we have very promising leads that suggest this may in fact be possible.”

Dr. Piven’s work has received worldwide accolades and opened up new possibilities in the early identification and treatment of childhood autism. With a new UNC Autism Research Center — where Dr. Piven co-chairs the Executive Committee made up of experts in genetics, pharmacology, public health and intervention — Carolina is uniquely suited to improve lives young and old through interdisciplinary research focused on early identification, intervention, personalized treatment and improved adult outcomes.

Update: In October 2018, Piven has been awarded the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation’s prestigious Ruane Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Research. The prize was initiated in 2000 by philanthropists Joy and William Ruane to recognize important advances in understanding and treating early-onset brain and behavior disorders. The prize carries an award of $50,000.

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