The Greenwood Genetic Center, commonly known as the GCC, working closely with a company called Biolog, Inc. has made an exceptional discovery leading scientists to develop a more comprehensive awareness and understanding in the field of autism research. Scientists refer to the study of autism as autism spectrum disorders, also known as ASD’s. Luigi Boccuto, MD., a scientist at the GCC has discovered that people with ASD’s have a considerable decreased metabolism of an essential amino acid L-tryptophan. L-tryptophan is basically a protein building block which is found in most plants and animals.
L-tryptophan is considered to be essential because our bodies cannot produce it; it must be supplied to our system via food. After our bodies absorb L-tryptophan it eventually converts it to serotonin. If it is not supplied by an adequate food source, it will decrease the levels of serotonin in the brain.
Serotonin in the brain is essential because it transmits signals between nerve cells. It also has the ability to alter our mood, depending on the level of serotonin absorbed in the brain. Not only does serotonin affect mood, it also plays a crucial role in the development of the brain. If serotonin levels are low it also affects the brains development associated with behavioral problems, such as autism. Utilizing a test to establish the diagnosis of autism at an early age will greatly help educators and parents to assist in the behavioral development of autistic children.
This is all crucial to research being performed. Scientists also studied the genes involved in the metabolism of L-tryptophan, and these were found to be functioning at a lower level as well. The most imperative discovery of this is the possibility that a blood test may be developed to detect autism at an early age by calculating the metabolic rate of L-tryptophan. Biolog has developed a new method of technology called Phenotype Microarray that allows scientists and researchers to calculate and measure the ability of cells to make energy measuring biochemicals and nutrients, including L-tryptophan.
At the present time there is no concrete test to accurately diagnose autism. To date, the detection of autism cannot be made before the ages of two to three. However, there is current research being performed on mice experimenting with the levels of L-tryptophan. The study is geared at introducing higher levels of L-tryptophan to see if behavioral problems improve. The possibility of a blood test that could diagnose these problems, could lead to diagnosis of autism at a much earlier age. This would allow the benefit of therapeutic devices to be implemented and lead to a higher quality of life for those with autism.
On the scientific and biological spectrum, this discovery is tremendous. Researchers are now on a path leading them to understand the metabolic and molecular bases of autism. Once scientists have developed a clear understanding of what has gone wrong with the metabolism of tryptophan pathways, therapies can then be developed to target and correct the problems at a biological level.