Biomarkers can help distinguish different types of features but this week they were used to predict who would respond to Pivotal Response Training, or PRT. Researchers, led by Pam Ventral at Yale looked at how the brain responded to a social or non social situation as well as baseline features on standardized measures. Remarkably, these brain signatures were better at standard behavioral assessments at determining who would respond most positively to PRT. This study has enormous implications for personalized medicine approach and demonstrates how early studies in biomarkers many years ago have paid off for those with autism.
On Tuesday November 15th, Tracy Bale from University of Pennsylvania provided an insightful analysis of sex differences in behavioral, physiological and molecular outcomes following prenatal stress. She outlined the potential epigenetic markers that may lead to resilience in female offspring which has direct implications for autism. However, prior to Dr. Bale’s presentation, Donna Werling from UCSF briefly outlined the genetic and behavioral data so far about females with autism and why there is a 4:1 ratio in males to females getting a diagnosis. This webinar is part of the Environmental Epigenetics of Autism Webinar Series co-organized by Autism Science Foundation, Autism Speaks and the Escher Family Fund for Autism.
On early Wednesday morning, the United States woke up to the news that the new president was Donald Trump. While he hasn’t taken office yet, this podcast reviews his statement on his website or in his Contract with America, as well as thing published or stated by him or his campaign on his website or in an interview. The following are covered: health coverage, Medicaid, mental health services, science and the environment, and education. The focus is now the proposed changes and policies could affect families with autism. There is also a special message at the end from David Mandell about how families can deal with the changes ahead. A transcript of the podcast is available here.
Overall, the scientific research examining the efficacy of oxytocin treatment in autism spectrum disorder has been mixed. On a previous podcast, studies in the way the oxytocin receptor was turned on and off were explained which may account for variability in treatment response. This week, two studies in Japan show that specific mutations in the oxytocin receptor product predict who will respond to oxytocin treatment and who will not. Therefore, the oxytocin story is one of the first examples of using genetic findings to push better treatment on an individual level, otherwise known as precision medicine.
How long do you have to study an intervention to see if it works? Many scientists agree that it isn’t just about what happens in the short run, but if those interventions can be sustained for long periods of time. In the case of very early interventions, it is now clear that treatment for about a year can change the trajectory of symptoms so those improvements are sustained, maintained or lead to even further improvements for 6 years after the initial intervention has stopped. This important finding was hidden by the BBC getting the headline wrong and hiding the true value of the research at the end of the story. This week’s podcast outlines the contribution of parent-implemented intervention and research studying autism even before symptoms emerge in improving trajectories rather than just immediate outcomes. Happy Halloween!
While still rare, there are cases where an autism diagnosis is not made until adulthood. Why have these people been missed and what do they need? How did they go for so long without anyone recognizing that they needed help? A new study from the lab of Dr. Francesca Happe in the UK investigates the characteristics and features of people who were referred for a diagnosis after 18 years of age. Hear more about how they managed in this week’s podcast.
In addition to risks of anxiety, ADHD, mood disorders and other psychiatric issues, people with autism (and their siblings) show increased risk of substance abuse issues. This information comes from a large scandanavian registry study that included over 26,000 individuals with ASD. On this week’s podcast I discuss what this means for people with autism and their family members.
On October 14th, the Autism BrainNet hosted it’s first webinar around how brain tissue findings affect people with autism. First, Shafali Jeste, MD, from UCLA explained what seizures were, how prevalent they were in people with autism, and what the risk factors for them were in ASD. Next, David Menassa from Oxford University described recent findings in brain tissue which showed how glia cells, or the cells of the brain that support neurons, are affected in ASD and how epilepsy affects these changes. The introduction of the webinar is missing but only for a few seconds. Thank you to Drs. Jeste and Menassa for participating in such a great informational event and for everyone that registered.
Two studies recently add to an ever growing literature around undiagnosed siblings of individuals with autism. While in autism features there is evidence of the “broader autism phenotype” in female siblings, there is no evidence of elevated sensory symptoms in those with a brother or system with autism. The more we understand about the psychological and psychiatric features of siblings with autism, the more they can be supported to deal not only with their siblings challenges, but with theirs as well.
Parent training has a number of important uses in autism. For toddlers, parents help provide intervention strategies in a number of settings allowing skills to be generalized. In adolescence, parents can help implement behavioral rules that can manage non-compliant behaviors, aggressive, disruptive or impulsive behaviors. This week, research investigated the role of parent training plus and ADHD medication for ADHD symptoms in autism and the results are promising. Finally, a review of the new NIH funding in understanding the causes of autism is reviewed. You can also read this review at the ASF blogsite.