Pregnant and concerned about autism? Folic acid can help.

This week a bunch of new studies came out that focused on changes in probability of having a child with autism after folic acid consumption during pregnancy.  Moderate consumption folic acid and slightly elevated levels of plasma folate during pregnancy has now been shown in at least half a dozen scientific studies to reduce the chance of that child to be later diagnosed with autism.  This is not a prevention effect, but a reduction in probability.   There are enough studies on this question for a Chinese group to have organized them, put their data together, reanalyze them together and conclude that this is a real thing.  If this was an effect seen after say, drinking battery acid, maybe it might require more consideration to recommend to the community.  However, taking folic acid during pregnancy is something medical doctors are recommending pregnant women do anyway.

Want to learn more?  Here are the studies:

Swedish Study:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28978695

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ppe.12414/epdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5625821/pdf/13229_2017_Article_170.pdf

Denmark Study:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28946926

 

Your taxpayer dollars at work in the Autism Centers for Excellence Awards

About two weeks ago, the National Institute of Health announced part of the government’s commitment to autism research through the ACE projects, or Autism Centers for Excellence.  Highly competitive and intensely scrutinized, these 5 year projects all investigates areas of autism aimed at helping people with ASD and their families.  This week’s podcast summaries them, discusses how they interact and complement each other, and explains how they are going to affect the lives of people with autism.

The good, the bad and the ugly about medication use in ASD

This week’s podcast summarizes recent evidence on why there is good and bad in treating autism with medication, but there is also lots of ugly.  While new medications are being developed and researchers are looking into new ways of measuring change across time time, medications are not effective in treating the core symptoms of autism and they have pretty harsh side effects which, you guessed it, are dealt with by prescribing more medications.  There are a lot of reasons to be hopeful about the future of medication use in autism, but lots of reasons to feel frustrated too.

 

Here are some of the articles that were cited:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23101743

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25885012

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5520775/

 

More on that Korea Daily mess. Plus early detection of ASD does improve outcomes.

This podcast was going to be dedicated to new early detection research which shows what the USPSTF has been looking for – the link between early detection, early intervention, and improved outcomes in a community setting.  Those findings are still included this week, but there is a slight diversion in theme.  The podcast will also include  an explanation of the immune/microbiome study published in Nature and misrepresented  by Korea Daily.  The study is important, however, the media sensationalized the findings and did the research no favors by labeling it a “major cause”.   Learn what the study did and what it actually discovered in this week’s podcast.

 

Here are the references of the studies mentioned in the podcast:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28902840

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28905160

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27474118

 

 

A 4th of July quickie on new data for treatment of autism symptoms

Happy 4th of July weekend.  This week’s podcast is devoted to the studies in the past few months focusing on autism treatments that didn’t make it into the regular weekly roundup.  They include data that shows promising results (peer networks and iPads) as well as those that didn’t do as well as hoped (social skills).  There were also some that showed that some therapies just don’t have any good studies to show definitively if they are helpful or not.  Take 8 minutes before the fireworks and listen to the latest on interventions of ASD.

From Early Detection to Early Intervention

This month, two new important research findings were published from scientists that study the very earliest signs and symptoms of autism.  First, Dr. Suzanne Macari at Yale showed that a type of temperament in toddlers was associated with autism at about 3 years of age.  This may be used in the future to develop specialized interventions very very early on.  Meanwhile, Dr. Jessica Brian’s group in Canada used the very early signs of autism – social orienting – to develop a new intervention called the Social ABC’s which they piloted last year.  Last week, a randomized clinical trial of this intervention showed improvements in social smiling, reactions to parents, and social orienting, suggesting it is a feasible and valid intervention option.  There is now a list of these interventions that have been rigorously tested.  This demonstrates that the early detection of features of autism, like temperament, can be turned into interventions to improve the outcome of toddlers with ASD.

The infant brain on early behavioral intervention

The brain is developing even after birth.  So interventions that are given very early have the best chance of remolding and rewiring a brain with autism to prevent autism related disabilities.  This week, a group from the University of London, Duke University and University of Washington measured brain activity during tasks that required social attention following 2 months of very very very early intervention.  They found that the way the brain responded to social stimuli was more like those without an autism diagnosis.  This study shows a biological marker of brain function is altered after behavioral interventions that are intended to do just that – change the way the brain functions.

Putting the pieces together around group social skills interventions

Individual research studies are great.  But even better is when someone takes these studies and puts them together to see if one study shows the same thing another does, and if they do is the effect size consistent?  Sometimes you can only do this by going old school and pooling the data from the individual studies.   This is especially helpful in determining the effectiveness of different interventions.  This week, Dr. Matthew Lerner and his colleagues at Stony Brook University  published a meta analysis of group social skills interventions.  They put together well-designed studies and asked:  do they work?  Are they better than getting nothing at all?  To find out, listen to this week’s ASF podcast.

And now….the 2016 year end summary of autism science

The year 2016 was eventful for many reasons.  In this 20 minute podcast, we review some of the scientific discoveries that highlighted findings in causes, understanding, and treating ASD.  Featured more this year is studies on the sibling of individuals with ASD, so we are calling 2016 “The Year of the Sibling”  This review includes genetics, gene x environment interactions, diagnosis, the broader autism phenotype, and early interventions and the role of parent-delivered interventions in long term outcome.  It also highlights the important role of studying brain tissue from individuals with autism to better understand people with autism across the lifespan, including those with known causes and unknown causes of ASD.  We hope you find it informative – please send comments to ahalladay@autismsciencefoundation.org

Another gene that causes autism and what families are doing about it

A gene that controls electrical activity in the brain, SCN2A, has been linked to autism for awhile.  But recently, a new study from China shows that mutations of this gene are seen in about 1% of people with autism.  This may put it into the category of the rare mutations that have a major contribution to autism symptoms.   In addition to autism, mutations of these gene are associated with seizures and epilepsy.  Because of the relatively high rates of mutations of this gene in autism and epilepsy, an amazing group of motivated families formed an organization to help support and awareness for this gene mutation.  This week’s podcast includes a message from one of the leaders of this foundation:  FamileSCN2A who are dedicated to help their children with the knowledge about their child’s genetic makeup.