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Study Points To Possibility Of Reversing Autism Symptoms


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New research suggests that a decades-old drug may be able to reverse symptoms of autism and now the medication is set to be tested in children with the developmental disorder.

The findings come from a study looking at a mouse model of autism published Tuesday in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

Researchers report that the drug called suramin effectively restored typical communication between cells in mice who had a human equivalent age of 30 and led the once-reclusive animals to seek out unfamiliar mice and explore new parts of their surroundings.

The results were temporary — with a single dose of the drug remaining effective in the mice for about five weeks — and researchers said suramin cannot be used long-term since it can lead to serious side effects like anemia and adrenal gland dysfunction.

Nonetheless, those behind the study said the findings are promising enough to warrant a small clinical trial of children with autism starting later this year.

Suramin has been used for nearly a century to treat a parasitic disease called African sleeping sickness. In the autism mouse model, the drug worked by addressing metabolic disturbances common in those on the spectrum that can impact language and social skills.

“Obviously correcting abnormalities in a mouse is a long way from a cure in humans, but we think this approach — antipurinergic therapy — is a new and fresh way to think about and address the challenge of autism,” said Robert Naviaux of the University of California, San Diego, a senior author of the study.

Naviaux indicated that further understanding of suramin’s effects on autism could lead to better treatments that may be used in conjunction with behavioral therapy to improve outcomes for individuals on the spectrum.

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Comments (14 Responses)

  1. Jon K. Evans says:

    So-Called Cures for Autism worry me! If you watched the movie: The Klumps, Professor Sherman Klump tried to get rid of the “Buddy Love” portion of his personality. Doing so, however, TOOK AWAY THE GENIUS THAT ENABLED HIM TO DEVELOP WEIGHT CONTROL POTIONS IN THE FIRST PLACE! Oddly, Professor Klump’s “Buddy Love” side not only remained, but WORSENED!

  2. Whitney says:

    I prefer the analogy of X-Men: Future Day Past would be more accurate Jon. Part of me thinks that Autism is part of evolution and gene mutations. That curebies are likes of Trask creating the Sentinels to hunt us down. I prefer that the society should become more tolerant and embrace the differences. Instead of demonizing us. As for treating the symptoms is fine if it helps the person function better but should be matter of choice. Listening to some of the parents here on Disability Scoop so far they feel that people with autism should not have a choice.

    I read the study it seems the drug has long term negative effects that make autism look good.

  3. Rikki says:

    Say this does work. What then? It temporarily reverses the symptoms of autism but does not “cure” it. And it cannot be used long term. What do we say to the people this is used on? “Hey, you can have your autism reversed for a little while but then you get it back”. And what about the cost? Drug companies will charge a fortune for it and, of course, insurance won’t cover it, so it will be another cost added onto the already staggering amount parents have to pay. And then when they can’t afford it any longer, or the timing runs out and the person has to take a break from the drug, they will revert back. It is actually quite cruel. I’m all for finding things to help, but let’s be smart about it and remember that people with autism are just that-people. Not someone to experiment around on. Oh, and why not do the trial on adults? Oh, yeah, they are capable of making decisions for themselves and would probably say “no way”.

  4. Margaret says:

    Please remember that people who actually have autism, not the lite version that gets so much attention, don’t really have choices. When they’re in pain, they can’t necessarily tell you what’s wrong. If someone is abusing them, they can’t tell you either. When someone explains a complicated life-decision, they can’t say please repeat the question. If you really can’t communicate, no iPad, no keyboard will give you a voice. The primary duty of a caring society is to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

  5. vmgillen says:

    To jump from mice straight to trials ON CHILDREN – children with disabilities, no less, shows just how desperate parents are, and how profit-driven research models have become. Take a look at the pediatric protocols for Risperadol… and the follow-up studies since. There is no reason for this – there are very promising studies showing computer-modeling of drug metabolization may provide step between mice and kids – or humans of any age.

  6. autismom says:

    I am perplexed as to why are people reacting so negatively about this? As we speak, off label drugs are being used NOW on our children and doctors really have no idea what the long term effects are. Here we have a drug that reverses autism symptoms in mice that will go through clinical trials on children before it is made available. Isn’t that the proper procedure for drug approval? If people want to get angry direct that anger to the drug companies and doctors who push off- label drugs with unknown side effects on our kids. Researchers discovered that many children with autism have an underlying mitochondrial dysfunction so that tells me they are on the right tack with this drug. I’ve read Dr. Naviaux research. he is a mitochondrial specialist and knows what he is talking about.

    And to those who bristle at “cure” or treatment- perhaps you don’t need it but for those who seek treatment for their autism, options should available and no one should be critical of anothers right to seek treatment.

  7. Joseph B. says:

    This fires me up when people refuse to see a silver lining. Is it not a step in the right direction? In our effort to be accepting of differences, we have now set ourselves up to where progress is no longer seen as progress; instead, it is some insidious plot to dehumanize folks with disabilities. Being able to ameliorate some of the effects of a disability is not a eugenics program. Believe it or not, some folks out there in the research community have hearts as well -they even have children with disabilities!

    I once read about a study that polled folks with various disabilities and asked if there was a cure, would they take it? An overwhelming number said they would not. Personally, I don’t buy it. While it’s true that the deaf community opposes cochlear implants, many others would jump at the opportunity to walk and see again. I think they are answering with a “No,” because they know that cure is not presently available. I also think they believe they are not accepting their disability if they would attempt to reverse it. As for me and the hundreds of others out there with SCI that I’ve met over the years, bring it on. Saying that I’d like to walk again isn’t a crime, and it doesn’t mean that I don’t accept reality. I’ve done very well for myself playing the hand that I was dealt. Science is going to deal me a new hand – and I’m not folding my cards.

  8. Whitney says:

    Joseph, It is not the potential to control the autistic symptoms but the potential of lack of choice for those who are on ASD. There some advocates believe and expressed all people with autism should not have a choice what affects them. There something out there makes them tolerable is wrong approach. This drug should be to benefit with those with autism to accept or not to accept the treatment. And not to make people who are with Autism tolerable to the Neurotypical society as a whole. ON the whole society needs to be more tolerant to those who are different and do not mean the race and gender. It is a silver lining if used correctly but I am looking more at the Human Nature and behavior of past pattern behaviors that have been displayed so far. Ritalin has shown that people rather drug their children instead of dealing with the energy levels.

  9. KA101 says:

    “Flowers for Algernon” was required reading in my high school. I have no desire to be Charles, thanks.

    Whitney’s pretty much nailed it. I suppose I could phrase it differently: we’ve been abused enough already thanks to various ABA-styled interventions (quiet hands, shock, starvation, etc) and don’t trust you with our neurochemistry.

  10. Cathy says:

    I just got the idea that they felt hopeful that something, anything, might make in a difference and that by studying it, they may be able to work with it in a positive way. My son has DS and if you replaced the disability with DS in the article, I would be thrilled that they were actually researching and may have a break through on down the road. My son is great but I know if he had a choice, he would choose to be able to communicate with others and function at even a slightly higher level. I also didn’t read anything in the article that said that people would be forced to take medication against their will. I have rejected all the drugs that the school wanted us to get to medicate our child so he would just sit there and now, with the adult programs, I can see the results of those medications and continuing them and it is not positive. It is management of the person. Anything to make an individual more independent would certainly be welcomed by many. You cannot force medication and you cannot force acceptance.

  11. shell says:

    Just curious….what is being administered to the mice to create a mouse model of autism……

  12. Carrie B. says:

    Has anyone ever read “Flowers for Algernon”?

  13. Rebecca says:

    So we are going straight from mice to Autistic human beings? Message to the Psychiatric community: Autistic persons are not rats for your cages.

  14. Jodi says:

    As a person diagnosed with aspergers disorder, I would say there’s no way in God’s green Earth I would ever take a drug to reverse my issues, because my issues are not severe enough to be concerned about reversing. As a mother to a child with severe autism, I say, this is a good thing, and I hope they discover a treatment that works.

    I can’t compare my condition with my son. I went to college, I got married, I had children. My son is stuck in perpetual childhood, and I have been told that at 10, that the best I can hope for is an institution. The doctors have counted him out. His school is doing the best they can, but he is 10 and doing kindergarten work. So please don’t judge parents until you have walked a mile in our shoes.

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