Autism Research Review – May 2013

CC BY-SA by Egan Snow

CC BY-SA by Egan Snow

Brain cells created in lab. New hope for autism.

A path breaking research was published in the journal Cell Stem Cell on 2nd May jointly by the Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research & Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. A team of scientists led by Stewart Anderson & Lorenz Studer produced interneurons in a laboratory simulating the way neurons are actually developed in the forebrain of humans. Utilising embryonic stem cells derived from human beings (hESCs), the team coerced them into transforming into cortical interneurons that release GABA, a neurotransmitter, which in turn controls the electrical activity of other neurons. The laboratory model developed by Anderson showed cell-cell signalling too that happens during the development of forebrain.
The results of this study are extremely heartening as it gives hope to a future where neuro-developmental disorders like epilepsy and autism might get cured by interventions developed on the new understanding that the study gives about the human brain. It allows investigation of normal human brain development and gives access to identify where exactly the disruption lies behind neurological disorders. Identifying the molecular pathology, molecules may be developed to combat and correct such life-altering developmental disorders.

Environmental enrichment enriches autism therapy

American Psychological Association published a paper on the 18th of this month on their first successful study involving Environmental enrichment, as they call it. The journal Behavioural Neuroscience documented the research that included 28 boys with autism between 3 and 12 years. Over a period of 6 months, these boys, divided into 2 groups, received conventional behaviour therapy. One of these groups also received environmental enrichment therapy.
The results were unbelievable. The environmental enrichment therapy which consisted of sets of sensory stimulation lasting 30 minutes and listening to classical music, improved social skills of 42% children in that group. The children showed improvement in overall autism manifestations, cognitive functioning, relating with people and responses to sights & sounds. Comparatively, only 7% boys in the traditional therapy group showed improvement in people skills and 31% in overall symptoms.
Cynthia Woo from University of California, co-author of study with Michael Leon said that the environmental enrichment therapy involved itema available in households and would be a cheaper yet effective source of stimulation for the autistic child. The keystone of the therapy was that autism typically reduces sensitivity of touch and smell. Thus enrichment of the senses would lead to better outcomes in autistic children was the prediction and the result.

Study finds predictive test for autism outcome based on linguistic skills

PLOS ONE ran an article on the 29th of May about a new study that could become a marker of sorts in predicting the child’s cognitive, adaptive and language skills at the age of 4 and 6 years, by simply assessing the patterns of response to words in autistic children of 2 years age.
Brain response pattern to word learning in a 2 year old was used to predict skills of cognition and language after 2 and 4 years, irrespective of the treatment given to the child. Children with milder symptoms showed patterns similar to regular peers while children with severe symptoms had localisation of response in the right half of the brain which is atypical of growing children. Children who responded to words like typical children at the age of 2 showed better abilities at ages 4, 6 too, said Patricia Kuhl, lead author, University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences.