7/21 - Latest in Autism News

Children with autism sought for UW, national study to ID biological markers 

Children with autism will be examined by UW researchers to compare social impairment and social function and identify biomarkers for the disorder.

University of Washington researchers will be recruiting Seattle-area children with autism as part of a four-year, $28 million study at five sites across the nation to identify biological markers that could help diagnose, track and treat the disorder. 

The new Biomarkers Consortium project, announced Monday, will recruit about 600 children over 24 weeks at centers including UW/Seattle Children’s Research Institute, Duke University, Boston Children’s Hospital, the University of California at Los Angeles and Yale University. Principal investigator is James McPartland, director of the Yale Developmental Disabilities Clinic. 

Researchers will examine preschoolers ages 3 to 5 and school-aged kids ages 6 to 11, both with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), to compare social impairment and social function. They’ll look at eye-tracking responses and brain activity for future clinical trials, officials with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said in a statement. They’ll also collect blood samples from kids with autism and their parents for future analysis. 

“This is one of the largest single NIH-funded grants focused on autism ever,” Raphael Bernier, clinical director of the Seattle Children’s Autism Center, said in a statement. “It reflects the importance of this endeavor. We need to catch up with other clinical concerns like cancer and cardiovascular disease on establishing biomarkers for autism.”

The goal is to produce a set of markers of social and communication function in ASD that can be used to study long-term results in clinical and drug-development studies. 

About one in every 68 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 1 percent of children worldwide have a condition on the spectrum, experts say.

ASD is a group of neurodevelopment disorders that affects social interaction and communication skills and can cause restrictive and repetitive behaviors. 

Families interested in participating can go online at www.asdbiomarkers.org or http://depts.washington.edu/rablab or call 206-616-2889. 

July 20,2015, By  JoNel Aleccia, Seattle Times health reporter

    7/13 - Latest in Autism News

    Brain Study Reveals Insights Into Genetic Basis of Autism

    UNSW Australia scientists have discovered a link between autism and genetic changes in some segments of DNA that are responsible for switching on genes in the brain.

    The finding is the result of a world-first study of the human brain that identified more than 100 of these DNA segments, known as enhancers, which are thought to play a vital role in normal development by controlling gene activity in the brain.

    "Our study provides a unique resource of information on gene function in the human brain which could help reveal the basis of autism and related neurological disorders," says lead author UNSW's Dr Irina Voineagu.

    The research is published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

    A lot of research on the genetic causes of diseases, including autism, focuses on mutations in genes -- the segments of DNA that contain the blue-print for producing proteins in the cell. But protein-coding DNA accounts for less than 5 per cent of the full human genetic code.

    "The rest of the DNA is not just a lot of junk. Some segments of it -- the enhancers -- control when, and in which parts of the body, the genes become active," says Dr Voineagu, of the UNSW School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences.

    "These enhancers can harbour disease-causing mutations which would be missed in traditional studies of genes, but which are suspected of playing an important role in inherited neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders.

    "The problem for researchers is that enhancers are hard to find, because they can be located a long way away from the genes that they control."

    In their comprehensive study, which involved a search of gene activity maps as well as testing of human brain tissue, the researchers identified more than 100 enhancers which were much more active in the brain than in other tissues.

    They did this by searching for the special RNA molecules that enhancers produce.

    They also provided initial evidence towards identifying which genes were being switched on by the enhancers.

    In a final step they also analysed whether any of the enhancers contained genetic changes already linked to a range of disorders including, attention deficit disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and autism.

    The results were positive for autism.

    "Our study is the first to investigate how the activity of enhancers and genes are coordinated in the human brain, and the first to show that brain enhancers are linked to autism," says Dr Voineagu.

     July 13, 2015- University of New South WalesNote: Materials may be edited for content and length.


    7/5 - Lastest in Autism News

    Study Finds Children with Autism don't react to good and bad smells

    Children with autism spectrum disorder often have either an exaggerated or a numbed response to sight, sound and touch. This behavior is so common that it's one of the diagnostic criteria for the disorder.

    Now, a new study suggests that children with autism might also experience smells differently from children who have typical development.

    To explore how children with autism respond to odors, researchers built a device called an olfactometer, which delivered different scents through a small tube that fit into nostrils. A second tube measured how much air the children were breathing in during each scent -- in other words, how much of a sniff they were taking.

    The researchers exposed 36 children -- 18 who had autism and 18 who did not -- to alternating bouquets of pleasant smells, such as roses or shampoo, or unpleasant smells, such as sour milk or rotten fish.

    They found that children who did not have autism took a longer sniff for roses and a shorter one for rotten fish, and the difference in breathing happened quickly, within one-third of second of being exposed to the scent.

    In contrast, children with autism did not change their breathing in response to the different aromas.

    "What we measure, the sniff response, is quite intuitive (and) adults and children with typical development react similarly," said Liron Rozenkrantz, a doctoral student in neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. The difference found in children with autism was striking, said Rozenkrantz, who was lead author of the study published Thursday in Current Biology.

    It is unclear from the study if children with autism did not have a sniff response because they didn't perceive odors in the same way other children did, or because they just couldn't control their sniffing behavior.

    Still, the idea that differences in smelling could be a symptom of autism might not be news to parents of children with autism. There have been accounts from parents about children who want to sniff people or objects, or who choose their friends based on their odor, even when it's imperceptible to others, Rozenkrantz said.

    It has been difficult to study smelling behavior in children with autism because tests often ask them to describe odors, even though difficulty in communicating is a hallmark of autism, Rozenkrantz said.

    The olfactometer-based test takes about 10 minutes and does not require the children to answer any questions or complete a task. In the study, they wore the device while watching cartoons.

    The researchers in the current study found that their olfactometer could accurately identify the autism status of 12 of the 18 children who had autism, and 17 of the 18 control children who did not have autism.

    The ability of the device to correctly categorize autism in 81% of cases raises the possibility that it could one day be used as a way to diagnose the disorder. The fact that it does not require a verbal test means that the olfactometer could be used in babies as young as a few months old, Rozenkrantz said.

    However the average age of children in the current study was 7. For the device to become a method for early diagnosis, it would first have to be tested in young babies, and babies identified as being at risk of autism would have to be followed into childhood to see if they actually developed the disorder, Rozenkrantz said.

    Research has shown that early behavioral interventions for young children at risk of autism could improve their development. Most children are not diagnosed until age 4 or older and have missed a key window to get help.

    "It's way too early to say whether this could be helpful in diagnosing autism," said Dr. Paul Wang, senior vice president and head of medical research for Autism Speaks, an autism research and advocacy organization. Wang was not involved in the study.

    In order to be used as a diagnostic tool, the device would have be tested in more children and also show that it can identify autism in more than two-thirds of children with the disorder, he said.

    However the current study does give some idea of olfactory symptoms that could be occurring with autism, Wang said.

    "I think this really fits well with increasing research on general sensory symptoms in autism," he said.

    The researchers saw that children who had a dampened sniff response were more likely to also have deficits in communicating and socializing, but were less likely to have repetitive behaviors, which are the other hallmark of autism.

    Differences in sensory reactions have previously been thought of as part of the repetitive behaviors of the disorder, but "this is an interesting study that suggests that the senses are more tied to socio-communicative behavior," Wang said.

    These findings could also provide some clues as to why many children with autism have trouble eating.

    "It could be muscular problems, with swallowing and chewing, but smell is a big part of taste and children with autism may not perceive smell in the same way as other children," Wang said.

    July 3, 2015, By Carina Storrs, CNN



    6/23 - Latest in Autism News

    Autism Education Options Changing in Minneapolis Public Schools

    MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minneapolis Public Schools is changing the way it provides instruction for children with autism.
    The district will shift resources so students classified as Level 1 or 2 can get the instruction they need in community schools rather than specialized programs.
    “My son has been in the preschool program for three years and he’s really grown tremendously,” said Heidi Klukas.
    Klukas has nothing but good things to say about Minneapolis Public schools and its approach to teaching children with autism. Her son, William, thrived under the city wide program.
    “We were told in the Fall, ‘Yes, your child can go to a program school. Go tour them, make your selection and you’re done.’ So I did all that when I was supposed to,” Klukas said.
    Klukas was shocked when she learned the school she picked out for William wouldn’t accept him. MPS discontinued its program that allowed level 1 or 2 children, like her son William, to use the citywide program.
    Instead, William will have to go to a school in his neighborhood. The school Klukas wanted her son to attend is out of her area.
    “In order to get in, I would have to live in the neighborhood so I moved,” Klukas said.
    MPS Director of Special Education Rochelle Cox says she believes changing where children with autism are taught gives parents more options.
    “Now in our district, we have 60-plus teachers who have their autism license,” Cox said. “So we were able to provide that service — that stellar service we were providing in the city wide schools — to students in their neighborhood schools.”
    Cox says children with autism that are considered level 3 will continue to be served by the city-wide program, where classrooms are smaller and there is more support. She says changes fall in line with national standards that allow children with autism to move into mainstream classrooms.
    “I understand their goals and making the programs available at the neighborhood schools but it seems like it was done quickly at least we weren’t aware as parents,” Klukas said.
    Cox says where a child is placed depends on the individual education program parents and teachers develop for the child. If a student is not thriving, changes can be made to send them to the city wide program.

    June 22, 2015, CBS Minnesota