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Scientists make autism breakthrough

Scientists at Auckland University's Centre for Brain Research say they have gained new understandings of the causes of autism, opening up new avenues for possible treatment.

The ground-breaking research, done in collaboration with Stanford University in the United States, looked at brain cell communication and genetic mutations in people with autism.

The team discovered that autism was caused by mutated brain proteins, called Shank3, weakening communication between brain cells.

Head researcher Jo Montgomery said that the discovery was exciting because it meant treatments could be investigated.

"Brain cells are incredibly sociable cells in the brain and they talk to each other all the time," she said.

"There are about 10 trillion brain cells connected by about 10 billion synapses which gives you an idea of how much chatter is going on in your brain at one time, and all that chatter underlies how you see things, how you move, how you learn and how you remember things.

"What we showed is that when you have these autism-associated mutations, this changes how synapses in the brain function."

Dr Montgomery said there was definitely reason to get excited about the possibilities for a cure for autism, at some stage in the future.

"This is becoming an increasingly prevalent disorder - the latest numbers are one in 82 children," she said. "We're not entirely sure why that is and this is becoming a major issue, we need to find out what's going on and try to help some of those people who are severely affected by it."

Source : Stuff.co.nz : Read the full story here.

How Canada is starting to tackle the autism crisis

It’s almost 10 years since my eyes were first opened to autism and its daunting human and social implications. As I walked up to Parliament Hill one morning, I ran into a man peacefully protesting in front of the Centennial Flame. He and his wife had the heavy burden of caring for an autistic child, a son who could not even make eye contact with them. The boy was isolated as a result of his symptoms, and so too were they. The emotional and financial weight was too much.

The desperation that prompted him to make a protest sign and then stand on Parliament Hill that day was a kind of desperation I had never seen before. The intensity was etched in his eyes. He was hurting.

But he was also forthcoming and candid. And he certainly made his point with at least one person he met that morning.

I decided then and there that I had to learn more about autism and how, as a parliamentarian, I could make a positive difference in the lives of the many Canadians living with it.

I eventually found allies, but it wasn’t easy to find senators and MPs who understood autism and the crisis it had become. There are so many issues parliamentarians must grapple with and this was another one. Besides, most thought it was a provincial issue. But with a little perseverance, I launched an inquiry in the Senate.

Source : TheStar.com : Read full story here.

Alternative Biomedical Treatments for Autism: How Good Is the Evidence?

Source :Scientific American : Read the whole story here

Research on only one treatment is rigorous enough to earn an A grade
By Nancy Shute  | Thursday, October 7, 2010

Parents who research treatments for autism are confronted with a bewildering array of options, almost all of which have never been tested for safety and effectiveness. Organizations like The Cochrane Collaboration, which reviews the quality of evidence for medical treatments, are putting more effort into evaluating popular alternative treatments.

So far, the most comprehensive review of alternative autism treatments comes from two pediatricians: Susan Hyman of the University of Rochester School of Medicine Golisano Children's Hospital at Strong and Susan Levy, a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Their 2008 analysis gave each treatment a letter grade for the quality of the research conducted up to that point; the mark, however, is not a ranking of the treatment's safety or effectiveness.

The two pediatricians based the grades on the amount of testing done on the treatments, which in most cases was skimpy at best. Research that got an "A" grade included randomized control trials, the gold standard for medical research, and meta-analyses, which compare research from different labs. A "B" went to treatments that had been studied in "well-designed controlled and uncontrolled trials," according to Hyman. The "C" grades, the lowest category (there were no "D"s or "F"s), were based on case reports, theories and anecdotes, which are not considered acceptable for mainstream medical research.

Research on just one treatment, secretin, was good enough to earn an A. In short, there is a lot more work that needs to be done toward testing popular alternative treatments and getting more potential treatments into development at research institutions and pharmaceutical companies.

FDA Approves Adult Stem Cell Trial for People With Autism

Autism is as mysterious as it is devastating. Does it have a genetic cause? Is it environmental? Or is there some complex combination of both that derails normal development of communication and social skills.

The treatments for autism are as varied as the patients, since it is often the patient’s needs that dictate which treatments are most effective. Some parents have brought their children overseas for stem cell treatments that claim to improve the symptoms of autism.

The FDA has approved a ground-breaking adult stem cell trial in the United States to see if stem cells can in fact help those with autism. Unlike treatments in other countries, this trial will be using cord blood stem cells saved from a child’s own umbilical cord.

From Scientific American:

A clinical trial being conducted by the Sutter Neuroscience Institute in Sacramento, California to address this situation began recruiting participants today for a highly experimental stem cell therapy for autism. The institute plans to find 30 autistic children between ages 2 and 7 with cord blood banked at the privately-run Cord Blood Registry, located about 100 miles west of the institute….

A major difference between the Sutter trial and those in China is that his will use the child’s own stem cells, rather than those from a donor. Chez hypothesizes that one way autologous stem cell infusion might work is by reducing inflammation within the body’s immune system. This would answer previous research that suggests that autism may be an autoimmune disease. “One of our exploratory goals will be to look at inflammatory markers in cells,” he says.

Source: LifeNews.com -- To read the whole story, click here.

Elevated serum levels of interleukin-17A in children with autism.

BACKGROUND: The T-helper (Th)1/Th2 dichotomy dominated the field of immune regulation until interleukin (IL)-17-expressing T cells (Th17) were proposed to be a third lineage of helper T cells, the key players in the pathogenesis of autoimmune disorders. Autoimmunity to brain tissue may play a pathogenic role in autism. IL-17A is a pro-inflammatory cytokine that has been shown to play an important role in various autoimmune neuroinflammatory diseases. The aim of this study was to measure serum levels of IL-17A in relation to the degree of the severity of autism.

METHODS:

Serum IL-17A levels were measured by ELISA in 45 children with autism and 40 healthy matched healthy controls.

RESULTS:

Children with autism had significantly higher serum IL-17A levels than healthy controls (P <0.001), with increased serum levels of IL-17A found in 48.9% of the autism group. Patients with severe autism had significantly higher serum IL-17A levels than those with mild to moderate autism (P = 0.01), and raised serum IL-17A levels were significantly more common in children with severe autism (67.9%) than in those with mild to moderate autism (17.6%), P = 0.001.

CONCLUSIONS:

Serum IL-17A levels were raised in the group with autism, and the levels correlated significantly with the severity of autism. This is the first study to measure levels of IL-17A in relation to the severity of autism, to our knowledge. Further research, with a larger subject population, is warranted to determine whether the increase of serum IL-17A levels plasma has a pathogenic role in autism, and whether anti- IL-17A therapy could be useful.

Source : National Library of Medicine : Original article is here.

Autism and Psoriasis

Trawling the web, as one does, looking at new research studies on this, that and t'other often provides a few 'memory lane' moments.

For example, some weeks back I stumbled upon some interesting discussions on whether okra might have the ability to induce male sterility. Strange you might think thatlady's fingers might be a good male contraceptive, but there is some good science behind it specifically based on the actions of a compound called gossypol.

Why is gossypol part of my vocabulary? Well my better-half did some research on this compound a few years back, primarily derived from the cotton plant (Gossypium), with a view to its potential anti-psoriatic abilities. Realpharmacognosy in action. The anti-psoriatic abilities of gossypol got me thinking about psoriasis with autism spectrum conditions in mind.

Psoriasis is a topic which has cropped up before on this blog with regards to autoimmunity and how having one autoimmune-related condition might raise your risk of developing another (or others). Psoriasis is a bit of a blanket description for several manifested skin conditions. It is basically a fault in the production of skin cells; cells pile up on top of each other forming patches or plaques which can cause some quite serious physical discomfort, also having been linked to secondary bacterial infections. More recently is the suggestion that the disease might not just be skin related and not necessarily having just a physical effect. Prevalence and incidence studies are rife on psoriasis; this study suggested a prevalence of 2.5% among a European (German) population.

Source : Questioning Answers : Read the original story here.

Juan Enriquez: Will our kids be a different species?

This is an utterly fascinating discussion of human evolution, past, present, and future. In this case, the future is pretty much here and Juan Enriquez asks some important questions about what it means to be human and what that might mean in that immediate future. 

As the father of an autistic son, I find the notion that, for better or worse, we may be seeing the effects of a rapid state of human evolution. I use the words "for better or worse" because evolution doesn't necessarily mean a net positive change; only time, and continued evolution, will decide. Nevertheless, it's something we need to pay attention to now.

New drugs, fresh hope for autism patients

Lynn and Neil Balter always dreaded stage productions at their son Jack's elementary school.

When Jack was up there with the other performers, the noise, the lights, the crowd almost always got to him, and he would "start spinning," wandering around the stage or turning in circles, Lynn says. "It usually turned into an embarrassing situation," she adds.

But at a dance performance at Jack's Scottsdale, Arizona, school last December, something was different. "He was half a beat behind in the dance, but he did the whole thing," Neil says. "He participated and took the bow with his class."

Afterward, Jack's teacher greeted the Balters in tears. "I don't know what is going on with this kid, but there is this miracle happening and I have a different kid at school," she told the Balters.

Jack, 9 years old, has autism. What his teacher didn't know is that Jack was taking part in a clinical trial for a drug aimed at overcoming some of the social impairment associated with autism, a spectrum of disorders that range from the social awkwardness and narrow interests seen in Asperger syndrome to severe communication and intellectual disabilities.

For years the best that doctors have been able to offer patients with autism is intensive therapy and anti-psychotic drugs such as Johnson & Johnson's Risperdal to blunt some of the extreme behaviors associated with their disorder - tantrums, aggression and self-harm. Anti-psychotics quiet the patients. But they do nothing to address the core social and communication problems that make it impossible for many autistic children to develop deep relationships with their families and peers and grow into independently functioning adults.

As Jack's experience suggests, that may be about to change. Researchers are conducting advanced trials of the first drugs expressly designed to correct the genetically induced signaling problems in the brain that result in autism. The early indications are positive enough to offer new hope for families and spark interest from drug companies.

Source : MSNBC : Read the whole story here 

Fever Doubles Pregnancy Risk for Autism or Developmental Delay

Sacramento, CA, USA. Pregnant mothers with fevers were twice as likely to have a child with autism or developmental delay than mothers of typically developing children.

Findings from a new study that appears in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders showed that taking anti-pyretic medications to treat fever countered its effect in pregnant women.

The results are based on data from a large, case-control investigation known as the Childhood Autism Risk from  Geneticsand the Environment (CHARGE) Study. Another recent study based on CHARGE data found that mothers who were obese or diabetic had a higher likelihood of having children with autism. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a professor of public health sciences at UC Davis and principal investigator of the CHARGE study, pointed out that fever is produced by acute inflammation — the short-term, natural  immune system reaction to infection or injury — and that chronic inflammation, which no longer serves a beneficial purpose and can damage healthy tissue, may be present in mothers with metabolic abnormalities like diabetes and obesity.

"Since an inflammatory state in the body accompanies obesity and diabetes as well as fever," said Hertz-Picciotto, "the natural question is: Could inflammatory factors play a role in autism?" When people are infected by bacteria or viruses, the body generally reacts by mounting a healing response that involves the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines from white blood cells into the bloodstream.

Some cytokines are able to cross the placenta, and therefore could reach the fetal central  nervous system, potentially altering levels of neurotransmitters and brain development.

Source : TS-Si : Read the rest of the article here.

A call to study chemicals that may cause autism

The highly respected journal Environmental Health Perspectives has made a call for more research into possible environmental causes of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders and presented a list of the top ten target chemicals which are highly likely to contribute to neurological disorders.

The list was published alongside four articles supporting a link between chemicals and autism. The articles emerged from a conference hosted by the Children’s Environmental Health Center (CEHC) at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

The National Academy of Sciences believes that as many as 3% of all neurobehavioral disorders like autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may be related to toxic exposures and another 25% are caused by interactions between environmental factors and genetics. The connection though is unknown and demands further research. Some research has shown a genetic predisposition for certain neurological disorders like ASD, many researchers believe there may be an environmental trigger that sets it off in some children.

“A large number of the chemicals in widest use have not undergone even minimal assessment of potential toxicity and this is of great concern,” explained Dr. Philip Landrigan, MD, MSc, a world-renowned leader in children’s environmental health and Director of the CEHC. “Knowledge of environmental causes of neurodevelopmental disorders is critically important because they are potentially preventable.”

Read the whole article on BrainPhysics.com

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