Autism, in its early days
It's a small Keystone meeting on the pathophysiology of autistic syndromes here in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but you can feel the excitement among the 100 or so attendees, as they muddle their way through early data in this growing area of research. There are only nine posters being presented today -- but, according to co-host Pat Levitt from the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, all are important. This is in contrast to the last Keystone I attended on stem cell biology in Whistler, British Columbia, in 20
It's a small Keystone meeting on the pathophysiology of autistic syndromes here in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but you can feel the excitement among the 100 or so attendees, as they muddle their way through early data in this growing area of research. There are only nine posters being presented today -- but, according to co-host Pat Levitt from the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, all are important. This is in contrast to the last Keystone I attended on stem cell biology in Whistler, British Columbia, in 2006, which was several times the size, with tens of posters every night. (Interesting, given that autism rates among children have skyrocketed, while the field of stem cell research has so far produced more hype than results.)
So much about autism, a condition marked by socialization problems, remains a mystery - linkurl:genes;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/15820/ vs. environment, one disorder vs. multiple, the role of brain volume, etc.
This morning, Gerry Dawson at the University of Washington described interesting experiments that attempt to linkurl:elucidate;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/52940/ some of the linkurl:clinical features;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/53818/ of autism. In one, scientists reviewed home video tapes taken of children at their first birthdays, and compared features of non-autistic children to those of children who were later diagnosed. In another photo, an autistic boy plays with blocks while a scientist sits across from him and pretends to be hurt and crying, to test how long it takes the boy to notice him, and how long he lingers over the sad scientist. As part of another experiment, the researchers broadcast two sounds: A woman inviting a child to play with her in a soothing voice, and a garbled computer sound with no recognizable words (the autistic children preferred the computer sound).
One set of videos were encouraging: In one, a little girl sits and plays with blocks without looking at the people around her, and makes non-verbal sounds, all hallmarks of autism. After some intensive, early therapy, however, a second video shows the same girl reading, talking, smiling and engaging with those around her. A sign that some of what these scientists are doing may be working.
February 26, 2008
One repeatedly finds references to "increasing rates of autism?. An objective review of the literature finds little support that the rates of autism are actually increasing. I think given the increasing awareness of the autism spectrum disorders that the increased focus on autism is more likely attributable to an increase awareness and ascertainment of the disease. Indeed, large epidemiologic studies conducted to examine the hypothetical link between autism and certain childhood vaccinations find no increase in autism rates over time and no evidence for a link to the MMR vaccine or thimerasol. Indeed the Madsen et al study (NEJM 2002) and the Madsen et al study in Pediatrics (2003) simply do not support claims of an increase in autism prevalence at least in a large Danish population. \n\nIn terms of understanding the likely complex etiology of autism, this distinction is important. If the ascertainment of autism is increased, then research should not focus on ?novel? environmental factors. It may be that in certain populations the prevalence of autism is increasing, but until this is backed up with solid epidemiologic data, it is inappropriate to make such claims. As Arlis Howard has said ?When the myth becomes fact, they publish the myth?. In science we do ourselves a disservice by perpetuating myths even if they may ultimately prove to have some basis in reality. \n\nTodd E. Golde MD PhD\nChair, Professor and Consultant\nDepartment of Neuroscience\nMayo Clinic Jacksonville\nBirdsall 210\n4500 San Pablo Rd\nJacksonville, FL 32224\nPhone 904-953-2538\nFax 904-953-7370\nemail firstname.lastname@example.org\n
February 28, 2008
Aspergers sydrome has similarities with mild autism, and in the UK sufferers are more apparent than previously. We currently have 4 sufferers in undrgraduate biology classes. With our specialist psychologist, I was questioning a possible link with foetal alcohol syndrome, which also has some similar symptoms. The increase in lung cancer in women correlates with an increase in smoking since the 1950s when it was uncommon. There appears to have been a similar incease in alcohol consumption. In the 1950s drunkenness was a male preserve but now a binge drinking culture in 15-25 year olds including females is making headlines in the UK. Has anyone looked at a possible connection between mothers alcohol consumption (or consumption of any other psychoactive drug, prescription or otherwise) while pregnant and the mental health of her offspring? The hypothesis is that some cases of Aspergers and possibly autism are a type of foetal alcohol syndrome dependent on the extent, timing and duration of exposure. A downside would be guilt trips for mothers if findings were positive, but ignorance is not bliss either.\nHugh Fletcher
March 1, 2008
It was interesting to note that the increase of alcoholism has been looked. Of all of the children that I know with aspergers, alcohol intake was not a problem with the mother. What was common was that they all had taken birth control pills prior to conception and did not wait the recommended one year before getting pregnant. Has the increased use of birth control pills equalled the increase of autism?