Autism Research: December 6, 2013. Week in review

adn-icon-298x300 Air pollution worsens genetic predilection for autism

As reported by Autism Daily Newscast in a longer article this week, a particular genetic variant has been identified to increase the risk of autism on exposure to air pollution, a new study has found. Researchers from the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California found that the combination of the MET gene and air pollution increased the risk of autism in children.

The findings will be published in the journal Epidemiology in January 2014.  Headed by Daniel Campbell of USC, the research involved 252 children from preschool based in California and suffering from autism or ASD. The children ranged from 2-5 years age. The pollution exposure was determined by past residential history and traffic sources while the MET genotype was confirmed through blood samples.

Autism Daily Newscast reported earlier this year on a study suggesting a similar connection.

Micro-movements to help assess autism severity

A new paper presented in the 2013 annual meeting of Society for Neuroscience elaborated on how studying minute movements has helped researchers diagnose ASDs and gauge their severity. The study conducted by Jorge Jose and Elizabeth Torres, both Ph.Ds, studied movements of children and adults alike, while raising the hand and touching a computer monitor. Movements so fine that they are undetectable to the human eye were captured and studied using highly advanced cameras and motion sensor devices.

The speeds and micro-movements were analysed by the team and they found a positive correlation between the degree of jitter and severity of autism. The new discovery could help develop tailor-made treatments for individuals with specific needs. For more information, go to Autism Daily Newscast here.

Oxytocin spray improved ‘social’ part of brain in autism kids, study claims.

The controversial ‘love hormone’ oxytocin continues to baffle researchers and parents of children with autism alike. Yet another study from the respectable Yale School of Medicine this time claims that a single puff of oxytocin delivered via a nasal spray found increased brain activities during the processing of social cues in children with ASD. The new findings to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences were recorded by Ilanit Gordon and Kevin Pelphrey and their team at the Yale School of Medicine. The study is the first of its kind to study brain function after use of oxytocin in children having autism.

In a study involving 17 children diagnosed with ASD, the team of scientists randomly gave oxytocin sprays to the children between ages 8 and 17 years. They found that the centers in the brain associated with recognition of emotions and rewards were more active during the social activities that the children performed on giving a single puff of oxytocin intranasally. The spray in a way normalized the social deficits that are a hallmark of autism.

The study comes as a ray of hope in a time where the number of children with autism is on a steady rise and there is need for therapy on an urgent basis. Social dysfunctioning is the chief reason for adults with autism not being able to obtain and retain jobs, making independent living difficult. The therapy demands larger trials to get more conclusive proof on the efficacy of oxytocin as therapy for ASD. Only then will it be available to the civilians. You can read more on this story from our earlier posting.

Occupational Therapy using Sensory Integration within play helps autistic children

Reported in our News In Brief section, researchers led by Neuroscientist Roseann Schaaf, have found that the use of Occupation Therapy together with Sensory Integration (OT-SI) can provide better outcomes for children on the autistic spectrum than ordinary standard care. Neuroscientist Roseann Schaaf, the lead investigator on the study, and colleagues used sensory integration strategies to identify the sensory difficulties that the child was having and to then devise strategies to help them, through the use of play.

Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee and the agencies receives dubious award for fiscal irresponsibility

Also in the News in Brief section, The Washington Times reports that between 2008 and 2012 approximately 1.4 billion has been spend on autism research. They point out that the investigators at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) consider 84% of this spending to be redundant.