iPS cells taken from children with autism may lead to new treatments

San Diego — A study conducted by neuroscientists at the University of California-San Diego may have found a strategy that could possibly pave the way for treatments of children in the autism spectrum.

The study, headed by Alysson Muotri, was conducted with the help of the Nobel-winning discovery of doctors Shinya Yamanaka and Sir John B. Gurdon– which found a way to turn the clock on matured cells. The discovery found that cells can be reprogrammed to become ‘pluripotent’– turning them back into their original form, making them once again capable of giving rise to several other cell types.

Muotri and her team made use of an 8-year-old child with ASD’s deciduous tooth to extract cells which they would later on revert to intermediate cells in their pluripotent state.

Reverted mature cells are called induced pluripotent stem cells or iPS.

The iPS cells gathered from the child were then turned into neurons and observed under a microscope by Muotri and her colleagues. What they found was astonishing. The neurons of the child with autism appeared to have lesser branches and synapses compared to those of a child without autism, whose neurons were produced the same way.

Researchers later on found that a mutation in the child’s neurons led to the disruption of a gene called TRPC6– a gene responsible for regulating the flow of calcium ions into individual cells. The researchers then treated the disrupted neuron with hyperforin, a drug that helps boost TRPC6 activity– and found the neurons had normalized.

The child who owns the neurons was later on also treated by hyperforin by his parents, and found significant improvement in his attention span after taking the medication for a month.

The child’s mother, however, pointed out that there were no noticeable changes on her son’s behavior.

Scientists are now looking into ways where the strategy may be used as a diagnostic tool in the future, as well as ways that the strategy might help in producing effective drugs for children on the autism spectrum. Although the study still has a long way to go, scientists see promise in their newfound approach in identifying the genes involved in developing autism.

The original article by Greg Miller on the Wired.com website can be read here

Contributed by Althea Estrella Violeta