April 26, 2013

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By Andy Hirsch

The Geisinger-Bucknell Autism and Developmental Medicine Center ribbon-cutting ceremony.

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Improving the lives of children with certain neurodevelopmental disorders depends greatly on the timing of a diagnosis, and the ways in which they are treated. The Autism and Developmental Medicine Center, which opened Thursday, will shape the national model on how to approach both factors. The center will include clinical care, research and education, representing a unique partnership between Bucknell University and Geisinger Health System.

"The Autism and Developmental Medicine Center gives children and families who face the challenges of developmental disorders the opportunity to receive a diagnosis and treatment through an enhanced model of care," said Glenn Steele, president and chief executive officer at Geisinger Health System. "The result is that families will have access to the latest treatment options, research initiatives and targeted clinical studies right here in central Pennsylvania."

Disorders treated at the Lewisburg center will include autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), a collection of developmental disabilities categorized by impairments in communication, social interaction and repetitive, restrictive patterns of behavior, as well as other related neurodevelopmental disorders. The new facility is expected to significantly reduce the amount of time families in the region have to wait to receive care. And a heavy emphasis will be placed on personalized treatment, said Bucknell's Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology David Evans.

"We currently diagnose disorders such as autism based on symptoms — the behaviors themselves. But every child is unique in their strengths and challenges, and research studies show that some treatments work for some children, but not others," Evans said. "It can be frustrating for families when their child is given a treatment that doesn't seem to work. Our approach looks at the links between genes, the brain and behavior to help understand the causes, and plan the most effective treatment plan for each child and family as an individual unit."Autism puzzle piece symbol

"Symptoms of neurodevelopmental disorders are typically apparent by age 2, and can be diagnosed and treated at this early age," added David Ledbetter, executive vice president and chief scientific officer at Geisinger Health System. "By screening children at the optimal time, arriving at an accurate diagnosis, and implementing personalized treatment and medical options, patients and their families will face significantly improved outcomes."

This joint effort will bring together Geisinger's neurodevelopmental pediatric specialists, psychiatry/psychology, radiology, pediatric neurology and genomic medicine with Bucknell's academic programs in neurosciences, psychology, education, mathematics and computer sciences, providing Bucknell students and researchers the opportunity to work with Geisinger's clinicians and scientists in a collaborative and integrated manner.

"This initiative will present opportunities in healthcare studies rare for undergraduates anywhere in America, and will expand the opportunities Bucknell faculty have to impact understanding of a major national and family challenge," said John Bravman, president of Bucknell University. "It gives the University the potential to become a global destination for students and scholars interested in studying brain development, abnormal development associated with autism, and cancers affecting the brain and nervous system."

The facility will also house a state-of-the-art neuroimaging center which will be used, not just for research purposes, but also to help monitor the effectiveness of treatment.

"Tools such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) allow us to make direct observations of brain structure and function. These are useful diagnostic tools, but our plan is to use these them to check on progress during treatment," Evans said. "If we see improvements in behavior, increased social and language skills, for example, we should be able to see those changes in the way the brain is functioning, and that will be objective evidence that what our clinicians are doing has a profound impact on our brains."

The Geisinger-Bucknell Autism and Developmental Medicine Center operates under the larger auspices of Geisinger's Autism and Developmental Medicine Institute, a system-wide initiative of Geisinger's Department of Research

Contact: Division of Communications