The Lurie Center for Autism at Massachusetts General Hospital
In 2009, Nancy Lurie Marks and the Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation established the Lurie Center for Autism at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). The NLM Family Foundation and MGH share a passionate commitment to providing a world-class center in autism focused on meeting the complex needs of autistic individuals from early childhood through adulthood. The Lurie Center is an integrated and multidisciplinary clinical, research, training and advocacy program dedicated to treating individuals with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disorders across the lifespan. The center is premised on the belief that every individual deserves an opportunity to access medical and therapeutic services of the highest quality to ensure that they can reach his or her full potential.
The center provides training and clinical experience for medical doctors to expand awareness of the needs of individuals with autism in a clinical setting. The center benefited from the experiences of LADDERS, a program at the MassGeneral Hospital for Children which for many years provided expertise in neurology, developmental pediatrics, gastroenterology, psychiatry and psychopharmacology for children with autism.
The center specializes in caring for individuals with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders having complex profiles often accompanied by Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, cerebral palsy, seizure disorders, sleep problems, gastrointestinal conditions, and many other physical or cognitive issues. Patients who visit the Lurie Center for Autism are seen by a team of doctors who attend to all of their medical and therapeutic needs by offering services in pediatrics, adult internal medicine, augmentative communication, nutrition, audiology, and gastrointestinal evaluation.
Furthermore, physicians, psychologists, and nurse practitioners collaborate with other professionals, including educational consultants, optometrists, behavioral consultants, speech-language pathologists, and physical and occupational therapists to complete a comprehensive treatment plan.
Large hospital systems can sometimes present daunting challenges for persons with autism just to get to the right place, compose oneself, and then try to communicate what’s not feeling right. Families are assigned a dedicated ‘Autism Resource Specialist’, often a medical social worker, a person who will come to know them well, to help with the planning and coordination of their visits with clinicians, therapists, researchers and school counselors.
The research mission of the Lurie Center for Autism is to advance knowledge of the causes of and treatments for autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disorders and rapidly translate these discoveries into exceptional clinical care. The Lurie Center for Autism is involved in collaborations with basic science researchers from around the globe to discover the fundamental causes of autism.
Persons with autism, like the rest of us, face new and different medical challenges as they age. Little is known about what health concerns might be unique to this population. Medicine has always advanced from the hunches and conjectures of physicians who see hundreds of patients, often for periods spanning many decades, and large clinics devoted to serving this population are needed.
To address these and many other questions, the Lurie Center maintains comprehensive longitudinal biomedical databases, integrating clinical and research observations, enabling qualified researchers to assemble research cohorts with informed consent. Inherent in these databases may be patterns and subgroupings that will spark physician-researchers, collaborating with bioinformatics specialists, to form new hypotheses and generate new ideas for treatments. Through referrals to specialists at the major clinical departments at MGH, as well as collaborations with basic scientists at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging and the Center for Human Genetics Research, the Lurie Center is in position to ground the study of autism in one of the most advanced biomedical treatment centers in the world.
The center integrates research into clinical practice. At the Lurie Center’s clinic, children and adults with autism spectrum disorders are offered an opportunity to participate in clinical research that provides unprecedented access to new and promising treatment options. With participation in research, volunteers join an important partnership with the research community and contribute to increasing knowledge of autism and related disorders.
The center’s director, Christopher McDougle, MD, is the Nancy Lurie Marks Professor in the Field of Autism at Harvard Medical School. Through the ongoing commitment of MGH to raise funds, the director is afforded the resources needed to create an environment conducive to discovering and testing new treatments as well as training future leaders specializing in medical care for this vulnerable population.
For more information, please visit the Lurie Center’s website.