Team McCallum

R&D for Lifetime of Life

Pregnancy v autism.

A trio of researchers has discovered that if there is a short interval between first and second babies, the second one has an increased risk of autism.

The researchers looked at 660,000 pairs of siblings born in California between 1992 and 2002, where the first-born did not have autism. Then they compared the rates of autism in the second sibling, using the interval between when the mother first gave birth and when she became pregnant again.

Compared to an interval of 3+ years, an interval of 2-3 years resulted in an increase in the risk of autism by 27%, while 1-2 years increased the risk by 87% and under 1 year increased the risk by 139%.

The researchers checked their work using pairs of siblings where the 1st born had autism, and again found the second was at even greater risk if the interval was less than 3 years.

Experts in autism are cautioning that although the study appears sound, it is normal to wait for results to be replicated in a different group of people.

However, other studies have shown an increased risk of schizophrenia in the second born where there is a short interval between pregnancies. While other problems such as being severely pre-term are also linked to increased risk of autism.

Collectively, these suggest that a short interval increases the chance that the second child’s neural development is impacted.

The researchers speculated that the reason might be a depleted level of nutrients such as folate or iron, or elevated stress levels.

Until a mechanism is established, this would suggest mothers falling pregnant within 3 years of last giving birth should make sure their nutrients follow medical recommendations closely, and put practices in place to cut stress.

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January 10, 2011 Posted by | Autism, Brain, Child Health, Diet, Minerals, Pregnancy, Stress, Success, Vitamins | Leave a comment

Autism: many new genes found.

Hundreds of scientists across North America and Europe have published a letter in the journal Nature, detailing their work to find more genetic patterns involved in autism.

Autism, and related disorders is considered to be approximately 90% due to inherited genetic patterns, yet there were few genes currently known to be involved, and these gave only a partial explantion.

The team looked for rare variations (occurring less than 1% of the time) in around 1,000 people with autism, and comparing this to nearly 1,300 controls without. In this instance, all the people studied were of European ancestry.

Many of the differences could be attributed to the currently known genetic variations. However, the team discovered many new genetic variations that were linked, including SHANK2, SYNGAP1, DLGAP2, DDX-PTCHD1 and others.

Apart from considerably expanding knowledge as to the mechanisms involved in autism and extending the number of potential targets for treatment, the work shows that the genetic pattern is highly variable from individual to individual. This suggests that a way forward may be by genetic testing to determine which suset is involved for a given patient, leading to more personalised and more effective treatment.

The team will continue the work over the next two years, and think this might expand the culprit variations to over 250 possibilities.

June 10, 2010 Posted by | Autism, Genetics, Science | Leave a comment

Social networks ‘drive’ autism.

Dr Peter S Bearman has found that social networks are important in the diagnosis of autism, particularly in milder cases, and is also leading to diagnosis at an earlier age.

The team from Columbia University looked at over 300,000 children born in California in 1997-2003.

The researchers found that children living near a child already diagnosed with autism had a much higher chance of being diagnosed themselves in the following year.

According to Bearman “Parents learn about autism and its symptoms; learn about doctors who are able to diagnose it; and learn how to navigate the process of obtaining a diagnosis and services from parents who have already been through the process with their own child.”

The effect works within school district boundaries, but not across them, making the social network aspect clearer.

The increased chance of diagnosis due to the social network effect was 42% if the children live within 250m of each other, and 22% if in 250-500m.

April 11, 2010 Posted by | Autism, Child Health, Learning, Peter S Bearman, Social networks, Success | 1 Comment

Autism breakthrough.

Dr Valerie W Hu and colleagues have made a breakthrough in autism, by studying genetic expression in identical twins where only one has autism, and in identical twins with autism compared to siblings without it.

Since identical twins have the same genes, Hu was looking at epigenetics (epi meaning over or above). The team investigated differences in DNA methylation in the twins.

DNA methylation is involved in many functions including gene transcription, nervous system development, cell death/survival, and other biological processes implicated in autism. It is also known to play a role in many cancers.

Hu found 2 genes involved in this type of autism. BCL-2 was already known, but RORA is linked to autism for the first time.

Hu confirmed the genetic test by examining tissue samples from brain regions involved in autism.

Apart from finding that RORA is involved, Hu’s work opens up 2 interesting avenues.

First, the existence of a genetic test means people can be checked to see if they have this type or not, leading to appropriate personalised treatment.

Second, the DNA methylation route is already being tackled successfully in some cancers, which raises the hope that treatment can be developed to reverse this form of autism.

Hu’s work appears in the FASEB Journal.

April 9, 2010 Posted by | Autism, BCL-2, Brain, DNA test, Epigenetics, Genetics, RORA, Science, Valerie W Hu | 1 Comment

Oxytocin improves autism.

Oxytocin is a hormone which plays a crucial role in enhancing social and emotional behaviour. Studies have shown that patients with autism have low levels of oxytocin in the blood.

Angela Sirigu, and a team at the Centre de Neuroscience Cognitive, has shown that inhalation of oxytocin by autistic patients increases the level in the blood and significantly improves interaction with other individuals.

Patients were better able to recognise facial emotions and to respond accordingly.

The study was in a small number of patients (13) and researchers note more work is necessary, including long term effects of administering oxytocin.

The report appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

February 17, 2010 Posted by | Angela Sirigu, Autism, Oxytocin | Leave a comment