Researchers are testing the hypothesis that mirror neurons are altered in people with autism through the characterization of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) development disorders by analyzing imitation tasks using artificial intelligence. The Move4ASD project is a scientific study jointly conducted by the University of Coimbra and Oxford University in the UK. Its aim is to “use technology-based approaches based on artificial intelligence methodologies to characterize autism through the analysis of imitation tasks,” explained João Ruivo Paulo, a researcher at the Institute of Systems and Robotics (ISR) at the University of Coimbra, quoted in a press release.
The Move4ASD project studies the hypothesis that the learning mechanism called mirror neurons may be altered in individuals diagnosed with autism compared to healthy individuals. Mirror neurons are activated when we perform an action, experience a sensation or emotion, or observe these behaviors in others. “It is believed that the learning of motor activities, such as walking and dancing, and other social interaction activities may be misinterpreted by individuals diagnosed with this condition,” the researcher observed.
The project will analyze neurophysiological and behavioral data captured through electroencephalography and three-dimensional movement, which will be processed using artificial intelligence to discover distinctions between healthy individuals and participants in the clinical group. “Through this differentiation between groups, it will be possible to identify neurophysiological biomarkers of motor patterns that are still poorly understood,” emphasized the project coordinator.
The scientific team believes that this study will contribute to a better understanding of autism in relation to the mirror neuron system. Paulo Menezes and Gabriel Pires (ISR), Miguel Castelo-Branco and Teresa Sousa (from the Biomedical Imaging and Translational Research Institute of Coimbra of the Institute of Nuclear Applied Sciences for Health at the University of Coimbra), and Tingting Zhu (from the University of Oxford) also participated in this study.
In the future, researchers hope to develop “an automatic tool to identify these biomarkers, which, in turn, can lead to an optimized characterization of these disorders.” The initiative also involves collaboration with the Portuguese Association for Developmental Disorders and Autism (APPDA). Several young people from this organization recently visited the ISR to learn about the work being done there and the Move4ASD project, interact with robots, and practice interactive games. “This collaboration will be essential to developing relevant scientific knowledge in the context of these developmental disorders,” noted the team of researchers.
The use of artificial intelligence in studying autism has become an area of intense research in recent years. Artificial intelligence can be used to analyze large amounts of data, making it possible to identify patterns that would be difficult to detect using traditional methods. The ability to identify neurophysiological biomarkers through the use of artificial intelligence may eventually lead to the development of new treatments for ASD.
The Move4ASD project is an important step towards understanding the mirror neuron system in individuals with autism. By analyzing neurophysiological and behavioral data using artificial intelligence, researchers hope to identify biomarkers that will lead to a better understanding of ASD. The collaboration with the Portuguese Association for Developmental Disorders and Autism is also crucial in ensuring that the research is relevant and applicable to those who are affected by ASD.