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10th Passwerk Award goes to Laura Tibermont

In early 2023, the tenth Passwerk Award was awarded to Laura Tibertmont. Laura has a Master's in Biomedical Science.


The award, which in addition to eternal fame is linked to a cash prize of 1500 euros, was awarded for her master's thesis entitled "The effect of multiple intra-nasal oxytocin administration on the neural processing of emotional faces in children with an autism spectrum disorder".


Short summary of this master’s thesis


A facial expression often speaks more than a thousand words. The ability to extract information from someone's face is therefore a crucial skill for functioning well in social contexts. Yet it is not equally simple for everyone to perceive and understand emotions. For people with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), this is particularly challenging, as they often have difficulties with social behaviours and non-verbal communication.


It has been shown in the past that oxytocin seems to ease the social symptoms of ASD. For example, there are studies that conclude that oxytocin has an anxiety-inhibiting effect. In addition, oxytocin may increase the internal conspicuity of social cues, such as emotional faces.


With the MOX study (Multiple-dose OXytocin), we initially wanted to see whether there are differences in the processing of emotional faces in the brain between children with and children without ASD. As expected, we found that children with ASD had greatly reduced neural sensitivity to emotional faces. In the second part of the study, children with ASD received an oxytocin or placebo nasal spray for four weeks. After these four weeks, we again evaluated the neural processing of emotional faces. Contrary to expectations, we found a lower neural sensitivity to emotional faces after oxytocin administration compared to the placebo.


Specifically, our results confirm previous findings on atypical processing of emotional faces in individuals with ASD. In addition, our findings suggest that oxytocin may have different effects depending on the context in which it is used. In this way, with this study we emphasise the importance of further research into the complex interaction between oxytocin therapy and the social context in which it is administered. A better understanding of this complex interplay may eventually lead to further success in the use of oxytocin as a therapy for individuals with ASD.


Jury


The jury consisting of Dieter Baeyens and Jan Cools (both from KULeuven), and Yolande Pacco and Nico De Cleen (both from Passwerk) decided that Laura Tibermont would be this year's laureate based on the following elements:

  • The relevance of the thesis within the proposed theme (the master's thesis must offer added value in terms of living, working or living with an autism spectrum profile)

  • Description of the practical valorisation potential in the thesis and/or motivation letter (explicit reflection on the applicability of the research results in practice)

  • Originality of the thesis

  • Scientific quality of the thesis



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