• What’s the connection between autism and epilepsy? This Baylor prof is digging in.

    Dr. Joaquin Lugo in his lab

    Autism researchers know they’re in it for the long run. Even as more attention has been focused on autism nationally, little is still known about the roots of the disorder. Frustrated families often end up sorting through a mix of rumor and speculation for guidance.

    Dr. Joaquin Lugo, BS ’99, is looking to change that. From his lab in the Baylor Sciences Building, Lugo’s research examines the connections between autism and epilepsy to glean a deeper understanding of the disorder. His lab’s mission is succinct — “to improve the quality of life in children with epilepsy, autism and other neurological disorders” — but the path to get there is multifaceted.

    In the last decade, researchers have recognized a strong connection between autism and epilepsy; about 25% of individuals who suffer from epilepsy have autism, and the reverse holds true, as well. At Baylor, Lugo focuses on a less-studied aspect of the disorders: early development.

    “Our hope is that by targeting this early on,” Lugo says, “we can have long-term impacts.”

    An early breakthrough came while examining the long-term impact of seizures on communication and behavior, as researchers found that seizures result in autistic-like behavior. With each finding comes countless further avenues to explore, in pursuit of discoveries that can lessen or alleviate the impact of the disorders. Autism’s evasiveness ensures that Lugo and his students conduct “lots of projects, to see if one wins out” as they “follow the data, whatever it drives.”

    Lugo, a fellow of the American Epilepsy Society, has been supported by nearly a million dollars in funding from the National Institutes of Health. A Baylor graduate himself, he returned to his alma mater to teach in 2010, and his work ensures that families living with autism or other neurological disorders have a dogged advocate and nationally-recognized researcher in their corner.

    Sic ’em, Dr. Lugo!