Wendy Roberts, MD, FRCP(C)
Neurosciences & Mental Health
Autism Research Unit
University of Toronto
Professor of Paediatrics
Dept. of Paediatrics
Areas of Specialty:
Autism spectrum disorders, developmental disorders
Trained at the University of Toronto and The Hospital for Sick Children, Dr. Wendy Roberts followed up a Developmental Paediatric Fellowship with eight years of part-time academic and part-time community practice in general and developmental paediatrics before returning to SickKids in a full-time academic position. Work with a variety of developmental disorders including ADHD, led Dr. Roberts to a special interest in Autism Spectrum Disorder. She is currently involved in many research projects examining the impact of early identification of autism as well as its genetic origins and therapeutic interventions. Dr. Roberts was instrumental in bringing gold-standard autism assessment protocols to Canada, and helped to secure funding for an autism research unit at The Hospital for Sick Children. Education of both research and clinical trainees has formed a significant part of her career and has led to a number of teaching awards. She is currently Co-Director of the Autism Research Unit at SickKids, Developmental Paediatrician at Bloorview Kids Rehab as well as a full professor, Department of Paediatrics, University of Toronto.
Clinical Care Activities
Autism, ASD (autism spectrum disorders), attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: diagnosis and intervention, and the genetic etiology of each.
University of Toronto
Learning Disability Fellow, Neurology
The Hospital for Sick Children, University of Toronto
- Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)
- Early identification
- Neuroimaging: ERP, MEG
- Pharmacological Intervention
- Syndromes associated with ASD: i.e. Moebius Syndrome, Neurofibromatosis, Epilepsy
I began my research career in the areas of ADHD and Learning Disability but since 1995 have focused on the very complex Autism Spectrum of Disorders. Recognition of the need for studies in Autism led to my efforts to develop the Autism Research Unit (ARU) at Sick Kids in 1998. The Unit’s mission is to understand the aetiology of autism, refine the knowledge of the phenotype, and search for effective interventions. With funding from NIH, NAAR, CAN, OMHF and CIHR, strong internal and external collaborations have been developed with:
- Internal: Drs. Scherer and Vincent of Sick Kids Genetics along with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH); Drs. Pang and Logan, Sick Kids Neurology/Neuroimaging with Dr. T. Roberts, Chair, Neuroimaging, University of Toronto
- External: Drs. Szatmari and Zwaigenbaum of McMaster Health Sciences Centre; Drs. Bryson and Smith in Halifax; and Dr. Eric Fombonne in Montreal.
I see my role in clinical research and research education as important in the following areas:
i. Phenotype Refinement: Careful assessment of behavioural phenotype and identification of subgroups within diagnostic areas is extremely time intensive but absolutely critical for genetic studies in developmental disorders. The Autism phenotype is being investigated through studies of sibling pairs, in infants with an older sibling with Autism, in epilepsy populations, in Moebius syndrome, and in two neuroimaging projects. I am interested in the analysis of phenotypic differences in disorders which have a higher incidence of autism, including epilepsy, neurofibromatosis, Moebius and Charge Syndrome. The commonality of the autistic phenotype is helping to focus our genetic search. Early behavioural markers of autism are being identified in our infancy studies but a biological marker will allow much earlier identification. Event Related Potentials are being studied in young children with Autism and MEG studies are looking at similar processes in older children with Autism with and without Specific Language Impairment.
ii. Clinical Trials: The ARU made a major contribution to clinical practice in a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of Secretin. This study was a direct response to public and media inquiry following anecdotal reports of positive affects from Secretin. The current RCT comparing the effectiveness of two different Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) in young children with Autism is almost complete. It will be the largest study of its kind in this age group and is allowing definition of adverse and positive responders, which will inform our genetic search for neurotransmitter differences in autism. As more information is available about the genome, we will continue to search for new agents to treat autistic disorders.
Future Research Interests
Pharmacogenetics and pharmacogenomics in Autistic Disorders
- Claus Wirsig Humanitarian Award, The Hospital for Sick Children Foundation. 2001
- Continuing Medical Education Award. The Hospital for Sick Children, Department of Paediatrics. 2000
- Volunteer of the Year Award. Integra Foundation. 1996
Kennedy T, Regehr G, Rosenfield J, Roberts W and Lingard L. Degrees of gap between knowledge and behaviour: a qualitative study of clinician action following an educational intervention. Academic Medicine. 2004:79(5): 386-93.
Askalan R, Mackay M, Brian J, Otsubo H, McDermott C, Bryson S, Boyd J, Snead OC III, Roberts W, Weiss S. A prospective preliminary analysis of the development of Autism and Epilepsy in children with infantile spasms. Journal of Child Neurology. 2003:18: 165-170.
Roberts W, Harford M: Immunization and children at risk for autism. Paediatrics & Child Health 2002:7(9):623-632.
Roberts W, Weaver L, Brian J, Bryson S, Emelianova S, Griffiths AM, MacKinnon B, Yim C, Wolpin J, Koren G. Repeated doses of porcine secretin in the treatment of autism: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Pediatrics. 2001 May;107(5):E71.
Sunohara G, Roberts W, Malone M, Schachar R, Tannock R, Basile V, Wigal R, Wigal S, Schuck S, Moriarity J, Swanson J, Kennedy J, Barr CL: Linkage of the dopamine D4 receptor gene and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 2000: 39(12):1537-1542.
Vincent JB, Herbrick J, Gurling HMD, Bolton PF, Roberts W. Scherer SW: Identification of a novel gene on chromosome 7q31 that is interrupted by a translocation breakpoint in an autistic individual. American Journal of Human Genetics 2000: 67:510-514.
Barr CL, Feng Y, Wigg K, Schachar R, Tannock R, Roberts W, Malone M, Kennedy JL: The 5' untranslated region of the dopamine D4 receptor gene and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Biological Psychiatry 2001: 105(1):84-90.
Barr CL, Shulman R, Wigg KG, Schachar R, Tannock R, Roberts W, Malone M, Kennedy JL: Linkage study of polymorphisms in the gene for myelin oliogodendrocyte glycoprotein located on chromosome 6p and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. American Journal of Medical Genetics (Neuropsychiatric Genetics) 2001: 105:250-254.
Barr CL, Xu C, Kroft J, Feng Y, Wigg KG, Zai G, Tannock R, Schachar R, Malone M, Roberts W, Nothen MM, Grunhage R, Vandenberg DJ, Uhl GR, King N, Kennedy JL: Haplotype study of three polymorphisms at the dopamine transporter locus confirm linkage to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Biological Psychiatry 2001: 49(4):333-339.
Xu C, Schachar R, Tannock R, Roberts W, Malone M, Kennedy JL, Barr CL: Linkage study of the alpha2A adrenergic receptor in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder families. American Journal of Medical Genetics (Neuropsychiatric Genetics) 2001: 105:159-162.
Roberts W, Weaver L, Brian J, Bryson S, Griffiths A, Yim C, Emilionova S, Koren G: The role of secretin in autism therapy. Pediatrics 2001: 107(5):71.