Autism Research: August 28, 2015 Week in Review

ResearchTechnology to transform behavior therapy in autism

Scientists are constantly striving to improvise existing methods of delivering therapies to children with autism. In one such endeavour, doctoral student Nkiruka Uzuegbunam, teamed up with his professors to develop what he terms as the MEBook. This device is a combination of a gaming system with social narrative. It can be used by parents and psychologists alike to deliver behavior therapy to kids on the spectrum. The research and development was done at the University of Kentucky. The most special thing about the MEBook is that it utilizes the child’s own face to teach them social behaviors. Studies in the past have shown this to be an extremely beneficial way to teach children on the spectrum. The researcher aims to create a device that can be modified by parents to suit their child and his needs. The MEBook combines numerous latest technologies like privacy protection, computer vision and signal processing to deliver the therapy to children in a more engaging and entertaining format.

Journal Reference: University of Kentucky. “Autism: Transforming behavioral therapy with technology.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 August 2015. <>.

Nasal spray device developed for autism, schizophrenia

 Researchers from the University of Oslo have identified a new device that will help deliver medication to the brain by a simple puff through the nostrils. This nasal spray has minimal side effects and will be used to deliver the hormone ‘oxytocin’ that, deep in controversy, seems to play a role in treating autism. A device called as OptiNose is being used by Professor Ole A. Andreassen and his team from the University to test the delivery of oxytocin and its effects. Intravenously delivered oxytocin showed no effects in participants of the study, as the molecule cannot enter the brain via blood. Intransally administered oxytocin, enters the brain directly and showed social benefit in low doses. High doses tended to produce an opposite social behavior as compared to what was intended. The team also noted that people with larger nasal cavities also showed stronger responses to the nasal delivery of oxytocin. The device is built in such a way it expands the nasal cavity to enhance delivery as well delivers the medication high up in the nose, ensuring minimal loss of medicine while inhalation. If the medicine and the device can be made available to the public, it will be a boon for people on the spectrum.

Journal Reference: D S Quintana, O A Andreassen. Low-dose oxytocin delivered intranasally with Breath Powered device affects social-cognitive behavior: a randomized four-way crossover trial with nasal cavity dimension assessment. Translational Psychiatry, 2015; 5 (7): e602 DOI: 10.1038/tp.2015.93

Autism ‘pathway’ traced from gene

In a path breaking new study, scientists from University of North Carolina School of Medicine, headed by Mark Zylka, have found the rough outline of such a pathway, that connects a gene to the anatomical changes it produces in the brain. A genetic mutation that codes for the enzyme UBE3A disables the on and off switch such that it remains permanently ‘on’, so to say. This meant that the mutation made too much of the active enzyme producing too many neuronal connections in the brain. Now, these extra synapses have been a constant finding in children with autism. This research connects these new findings with many confirmed older ones, putting autism etiology in a completely new perspective.