Autism Research: November 22, 2013 Week in Review

adn icon84% autism research potentially duplicative

The U.S Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that a shocking 84% of all autism research funded by federal U.S. agencies between fiscal years 2008 and 2012 was potentially duplicative. Funding research projects with the same topic is sometimes useful when it is done to corroborate results but mostly it leads to duplication when the money and time could be better utilized. Reports revealed that 5 agencies awarded $15.2 million for 20 projects of autism that were all related to 1 objective. Efforts to coordinate the researches amongst the agencies were limited which has lead to potentially duplicative research. GAO also found that the data of Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee’s (IACC) was outdated and incomplete; this lead to inadequate efforts in identifying opportunities for coordination between funding agencies resulting in unnecessary duplication. The GAO has recommended updating the data at IACC to ensure better coordination between funding/researching agencies, better communication and thus reduction of useless duplication.

Study reveals link between autism and synaesthesia

Researchers from Cambridge University led by Professor of Developmental Psychopathology Simon Baron-Cohen have found a link between the condition Synaesthesia to autism. Autism Daily News reported on this finding earlier this week; both as a summary and a longer op-ed piece.

Synaesthesia is a condition which present in individuals causing them to taste or see colours when presented with a specific word. A person with synaesthesia could see a colour for a specific place name, or that the letter “y” was blue, as an example. The study suggests that the condition is up to three times more prevalent in individuals with autism than their contemporaries.

Autism module in EHR improves Physicians’ adherence to diagnostic guidelines, study reveals

A new study published by the Infants and Young Children, reports that including an autism module in the electronic health records’ clinical decision system could improve screening rates of autism. It could help identifying at-risk children at a much younger age than the recommended 18 – 24 months current National guideline. Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine found that despite guidelines, children don’t get diagnosed with autism till 4-5 years age. By preparing an individualized 20-point pre-screening questionnaire, the researchers used the Child Health Improvement through Computer Automation system to screen each child at the 24-month visit. To be filled in by the parents, the questionnaire is personalized for each child and if the scores raise any concerns, the system will warn the attending physician to further examine the child for autism. Earlier diagnosis means earlier intervention and it’s a well-known fact that early intervention could mean all the difference in a child having autism.

The study concluded that 70% physicians found it easier to adhere to guidelines using the automated screening process.

Autism risk genes mapped by UCLA team

A team of neuroscientists at the prestigious UCLA institute have managed to map genes for autism-risk based on function. They have identified when and where exactly they play dominant roles during the stages of brain development in childhood. They also discovered abnormalities in neural circuitry that define important pathways between different parts of the cerebral cortex. The study published in the journal Cell, suggests that it is not autism but genetic mutations that occur during fetal growth and development that lead to the disruptions in the neural circuits.

The study could open up multiple avenues of understanding how autism might be caused, how much role genes play in it and how they could be targeted for treatment of autism. Dr. Daniel Geschwind, lead author of the study said that it was the first step in unraveling the disease and understanding how mutations lead to autism. His team found increased activity of risk genes in two key processes of brain development.