For the past 20 years, Slavica K. Katusic, M.D., an epidemiologist and physician, has been leading an experienced, well-integrated, multidisciplinary team of experts in the epidemiologic research of child neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, intellectual disability and learning disabilities involving reading, writing and math.
The current focus of Dr. Katusic's research is on autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is an umbrella term for a group of lifelong neurodevelopmental conditions with mostly unknown etiology that have huge impacts on affected individuals and their families, and are a major public health concern as an emerging national health emergency.
The rigorous epidemiologic studies conducted by Dr. Katusic's research team draw upon multiple unique resources, including medical records, public and private school records, and detailed birth certificate information. These resources contain detailed, routinely collected data available on every member of the population-based birth cohort of all children born to mothers who were residents of Olmsted County at the time of birth of a child. For the time period under examination, 1976 to 2000, this cohort comprises 30,989 individuals. Large population-based birth cohort studies have been extremely rare in ASD research.
Dr. Katusic's research has been funded by the National Institute of Health and a number of other funding agencies and organizations.
- Understanding the apparent increase in autism diagnoses. About 1 child in every 110 has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD affects more boys than girls: 1 boy in every 54 will have ASD. In the last 40 years, there has been an apparent and dramatic rise in prevalence (frequency) rates. Dr. Katusic's team is investigating the causes of this increase.
- Exploring and possibly confirming some of the risk factors and possible causes of ASD. Despite its increased prevalence and far-reaching effects, autism remains a little-understood neurodevelopmental condition with no known cure. Scientists don't know what causes it or how it develops. Dr. Katusic's research team has hypothesized various models to explain the relationship between obstetric complications and autism and between environmental risk factors and genetics.
- Elucidating adult cases of ASD. Knowledge about adult outcomes, such as social and emotional functioning, academic achievements, and quality of life, of children identified with autism spectrum disorder is almost nonexistent. Dr. Katusic is working to improve this body of knowledge.
- Addressing gaps in knowledge regarding cost utilization. The estimates of total costs of care for all people with autism amounts to more than $136 billion each year. The true cost to the affected children and their families is incalculable. Dr. Katusic is working to inform future efforts toward improved treatment and cost-effective care.
Significance to patient care
Dr. Katusic's research will help scientists gain knowledge of the natural history of autism, possible risk factors and outcomes in adulthood. Her work is critical to the understanding of prognostic factors, evaluation of interventions and allocation of health care resources, and ultimately is important for improving the care of children and adults with ASD.