Wednesday, March 7, 2007

International Meeting for Autism Research; The Latest and Greatest

Journal 13:

Recently I discovered this source while searching on the Autism Speaks website. This is a relatively important breakthrough in my research. The source itself is an overview of the International Meeting for Autism Research that took place in June 2006. It brought together almost 900 scientists all actively studying Autism. It outlined every aspect being researched and all of the latest breakthroughs in autism research.

One of the first issues discussed at the meeting was early diagnosis. Currently autism cannot be properly diagnosed until age 2 but Sally Rogers, a researcher at the High Risk Baby Siblings Research Consortium, discussed her findings in a study done on 6 month old babies. She found faint sings of autism in children that were more prone to looking at their mothers mouth rather that into their eyes. This shows an early disconnection with the person closest to them, a very usual symptom of autism. This makes me wonder about whether this can be associated with the mindreading studies I have been using. They too tested infants around 6 months and found that they were not yet able to mindread, only more towards seven or eight months did this ability begin to show in the tests done by Prof Claes von Hofsten. Either way if early sings such as the eye patterns that Rogers saw can lead to early EEG testing and early diagnosis it would be a step forward.

Another very popular discussion at the meeting was genetics and the prevalence of autism in families. A lecture given by Conrad Gilliam discussed genetic screening and a dozen different chromosomes that have been shown to contain incongruities in autistic individuals. From my own understanding of genetic screening, without one specific mutation on a specific chromosome to look for it would be difficult to give a sure diagnosis using this method. With Down syndrome amniocentesis can be used to see the extra copy of chromosome 21, but in autism no one chromosome is a cause making this method very unstable. One possible effect that gene abnormalities could have is, in brain development for example, when neurons are developing each one has a specific area to travel to, but if those signals are interrupted and the neuron does not travel to the correct place it could result in deficiencies in some areas and in others special talents. In an article in Time magazine Claudia Wallis writes “Autistic people have been shown to use their brains in unusual ways: they memorize alphabet characters in a part of the brain that ordinarily processes shapes. They tend to use the visual centers in the back of the brain for tasks usually handled by the prefrontal cortex.” This could be explained with the above genetic theory. Also discussed as a part of the discussion on genetics was the prevalence of autism in families with autism. Studies done on language and social communications on autistic twins, autistic non-twin siblings, and the parents of the children showed support for genetic factors and also suggested a higher rate of autism in families. The Autism Genome Project (AGP) gave lectures on their first findings in their completed genome scan. Their preliminary findings showed two chromosomal regions and three other possible sites that could have susceptibility to autism. Research in this area is still being analyzed and could provide more breakthroughs when fully deciphered.

The next subject of the meeting was neurobiology and neuroanatomy. “Cynthia Schumann and David Amaral at the MIND Institute at UC Davis reported that the size of the amygdala (an area of the brain that regulates emotion, anxiety and fear) was larger in young children but not adults with autism.” These findings potentially explain emotional and anxiety symptoms in children and adolescence with autism. Studies done by Gene Blatt showed two different neurotransmitter systems; the glutamine and the GABA systems. One of the systems; the GABA system uses a neurochemical known to slow down neuron action. A dysfunction was found in these two systems in individuals with autism which could cause a disruption of the neurons ability to ‘talk’ to one another. This lead to a discussion of the “underconectivity’ theory. This theory says that the brain regions have difficulty communicating with each other in those suffering from autism. “Marcel Just suggested that while different areas of the cortex may be ‘activated' normally in individuals with autism, different brain areas may not be working together effectively, leading to a lower degree of integration of information from sensory and motor inputs.” Mirror neurons were also discussed at the meting showing that a dysfunctional mirror neuron system “could explain many of the core symptoms of autism.” Also EEG could be used to monitor mirror neurons and therefore diagnose autism at an earlier age.

The final discussion was one of the most important; treatments. Current medications and FDA approval for which was discussed citing a need for more research into which medications are working and what symptom they treat. Risperdal, a medication used for aggression, has been called into question due to its affect on the glutamine and GABA systems discussed earlier. Other medications used to control seizures have been shown to be effective and others still are being tested to determine effectiveness.

To conclude the author of this article wrote “The International Meeting for Autism Research provides scientists the opportunity to learn from other researchers so that major discoveries and advances can be made even faster. Scientists cannot conduct research without the ongoing collaboration, input and updates of the most current findings in all areas of autism research, and this meeting makes these advancements possible.” The importance of a meeting such as this one is immeasurable. It is great to make a breakthrough, but without sharing your findings and collaborating with other researchers working towards the same goal, nothing can be done and science cannot move forward.

Works cited:

“Researchers, Scientists Share New Autism Research Findings”. Autism Speaks. June 2006. 7 Mar. 2007.

Wallis, Claudia . “Inside the Autistic Mind”. Time 7 May 2006. 1 Mar. 2007

1 comment:

Shelly said...

I realized in the second paragraph you misused the word weather. It should have been whether. Their were also a couple spelling mistakes that spell check could correct for you. Other than that this sounds like you have been making wonderful progress.