Scientists and researchers are constantly uncovering more information related to autism, offering insights into the origins, possible causes and even at times potential cures. I come across dozens of articles on a weekly basis, some of which seem more important than others. I thought I would share on a monthly basis stories that caught my eye.
Technology can curb social exclusion of children with autism
A new study involving interactive robots helps teach children with autism how to navigate social situations. Researchers at George Washington University are encouraging about two dozen children with autism to communicate with humanoid robots that detect and analyze the children’s actions and respond in ways that reinforce social learning. The robots use personalized gestures and vocal cues to provide interactions that are rewarding to the children.
I am particularly interested in this because of our involvement with Notre Dame and Robots (link). Read the full article here.
Folinic acid improves communication, eases autism symptoms in small study
In a small pilot study funded by Autism Speaks, treatment with folinic acid – a naturally occurring form of folate – improved communication and eased autism symptoms in language-impaired children who have autism. The gains were greatest in a subgroup of children who tested positive for an autoantibody that may partially block this vitamin from entering brain cells.
I’ve written about the deficiencies in folic acid during pregnancy and the possible connection to autism (link), but this looks at improving communication. Read the full article here.
Diverse causes of autism converge on common gene signature
The brains of people with autism show a distinct molecular signature, according to the largest-yet postmortem study of people with the condition. The signature reflects alterations in how genes are pieced together and expressed. The findings confirm and extend those from two smaller studies of autism brains “This pattern isn’t necessarily there in everybody at birth — there’s a window of time over which these patterns appear,” a researcher says. “Maybe there’s a treatment window there, where you could prevent that from occurring.” Preliminary data suggest that part of the gene expression signature the researchers found is specific to autism, but the team has not yet fully explored possible overlap with related conditions. The next step is to figure out how mutations linked to autism alter gene expression.
Read the full article here.
Changes in blood-brain barrier, intestinal permeability found in individuals with autism
In collaboration with researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and others, Fiorentino’s group found an altered blood-brain barrier in tissue samples from people with ASD when compared with healthy controls. The group analyzed postmortem cerebral cortex and cerebellum tissues from 33 individuals – 8 with ASD, 10 with schizophrenia and 15 healthy controls. Altered expression of genes associated with blood-brain-barrier integrity and function and with inflammation was detected in ASD tissue samples, supporting the hypothesis that an impaired blood-brain barrier associated with neuroinflammation contributes to ASD.
Read the full article here.
We’ve learned so much in the past 5 years, what will the future bring us? Tune in next month for an update on autism research!