Autism Research: December 5, 2014 Week in Review

Research

Tool to measure thoughts helps predict autism with 97% accuracy

Path breaking research from a team of scientists at the Carnegie Mellon University has lead to development of the first ever biological tool that can actually measure a person’s thoughts. It was found that it can predict a diagnosis of autism with 97% accuracy by creating representations of the thoughts in the brain. Led by Marcel Just the study’s findings were published this week in the journal PLOS ONE. The study employed fMRI (functional MRI) machine learning methods to help decode a person’s thoughts as the brain gets activated. Each thought produces a specific neural signature that the scientists studied and analyzed. They observed that individuals with autism varied in their neural signatures characteristically and have termed these as ‘thought markers’. They employed these altered signatures to predict autism and realized its high accuracy in diagnosing the condition.

Imperceptibly minute movements give new clue to autism severity

A new study by researchers from the Indiana University has found how hitherto thought to be insignificant, minute movements patterns of individuals diagnosed with autism can help determine the severity of the condition. Researchers led by Dr. Jorge Jose have for the first time explicitly quantified the severity and developed a way to assess the same. The findings were presented at this year’s meeting of Society for Neuroscience. Using data from hand movements the team found a pattern in the speed fluctuation of children with autism as well as their parents, indicating that genetics play a role in autism. the team is hopeful that their study of hand movement spike patterns will help identify parents that could give birth to children with autism, with more in depth and large scale studies backing their finding.

Cancer chemo could be causing autism

Scientists from University of North Carolina School of Medicine are claiming that the topoisomerase inhibitor drug used as part of chemotherapy cycles in treating tumors, topotecan, might be crossing the blood brain barrier and producing adverse effects in the brain. The findings published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences show that the drug might be producing long term effects on the brain. They found that the drug produces symptoms like memory loss, thinking difficulty and confusion commonly called as ‘chemo fog’ in cancer patients on the drug therapy. This is does by tabbing the production of certain proteins in the brain essential for inter-neuron communication. Since its long term effects are similar to the symptoms found in autism, scientists are warning pharmaceutical companies to test their drug better before continuing to use it on the next generation. The study was co-authored by Marc Zylka.

Guessing intentions changes the way we learn, new study finds

Findings from a new study published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology show that guessing another person’s beliefs and intentions affect the way we anticipate their behavior and affects our social interactions in general. The study led by Jean Daunizeau and colleagues at CNRS and INSERM studied 26 participants to study how this guessing, termed as ‘mentalizing’, affected behavior. They concluded that ‘mentalizing’ increased the success with repeated communication even when explicit verbal communication was lacking. The researchers are hopeful that these findings will enable them to understand how to develop better strategies to build communication skills in individuals with conditions like autism, etc who tend to be poor with social interaction.