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SFU PhD student from Mexico aims to diagnose autism in remote and rural villages

November 15, 2018
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By Stacey Makortoff

Amparo Viridiana Marquez may come from a small town in Mexico, but she has big ambitions in pursuing her PhD in biomedical physiology and kinesiology (BPK) at Simon Fraser University with financial help from the Government of Mexico.

Marquez is a recipient of a three-year science and technology scholarship, Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Technolgia (CONACYT), and also holds SFU’s Provost International Prize funding for as long as she maintains the CONACYT funding.

Before she began her doctoral studies, she was a clinical neuropsychologist in her hometown, working with children who had neurodevelopmental disorders. Because it was a small town, she soon realized there were not enough resources, or even access to the correct resources, to accommodate the needs of residents.

Marquez thought, “What if I could work on a tool that could help others in similar circumstances that could be used remotely, or digitally?”

This led to Marquez's research and work in SFU's Autism Research Centre at the Behaviour and Cognitive Neuroscience Institute.

“What I love about SFU is that the institution is willing to work on something that’s different,” explains Marquez. “I’m part of an exciting research project that could have big impact on a lot of people.”

Working with professors Sam Doesburg in the BPK department and Sylvain Moreno in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology, Marquez is developing a tool that can help indicate if a child is on the autism spectrum, and even help to diagnose the potential severity of symptoms.

Together the researchers are comparing the brain neuroimages of children and young adults who have autism spectrum disorder with those considered to be neurotypical.

“Understanding how differences in brain processing relate to symptoms will help us to diagnose earlier and be more successful in intervention," says Marquez.  

“Right now, we’re looking for research participants. We have a video we’ve prepared for both the parents as well as the children to help them better understand what to expect if they’re participating."

Marquez is embracing all that SFU, Vancouver and her research have to offer.

“Being here at SFU has opened my eyes to a world of possibilities. I love that I have the option to work in a clinical environment or the academy, but I’m also discovering the potential of working with industry as well.”

If you would like you and/or your child to participate in this research, please contact Amparo Marquez: amarquez@sfu.ca