Driving Skills May Be Harder to Master with ASD

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
“Driving” by Martin Alvarez Espinar is licensed under CC BY 2.0Kristina Elise Patrick, Ph.D

Nationwide Children’s Hospital
Columbus, OH 43205

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? 

Response: Many families of young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are concerned that they may have difficulty acquiring driver’s licenses and driving safely because of symptoms of ASD. However, the ability to drive opens the door to a variety of social, occupational, and educational experiences. We aimed to assess differences in simulated driving behaviors of young adults with ASD and those with typical development and to evaluate whether differences depended on level of driving experience and complexity of the driving task.

On average, young adults with ASD had more difficulty regulating their speed and position within their lane compared with typically developing individuals even on a very basic rural route. After completing the basic route, drivers were required to engage in more complex tasks such as changing the radio or engaging in conversation while driving, driving through a construction zone, and following behind a truck. On complex driving tasks, drivers with ASD who had acquired licensure drove similarly to typically developing drivers who had acquired licensure. However, novice drivers with ASD had more difficulty than typically developing drivers regulating their speed and position within the lane.

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Food Allergies More Common in Children With ASD

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Wei Bao, MD, PhD Assistant Professor, Epidemiology College of Public Health University of Iowa

Dr. Wei Bao

Wei Bao, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor, Epidemiology
College of Public Health
University of Iowa

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Previous studies indicated a possible link between immunologic dysfunction and autism. The current study, based on nationally representative large-scale surveys, showed that food allergy, respiratory allergy, and skin allergy, all relevant to immunological dysfunction, were associated with autism spectrum disorder among US children.

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Hypertension Disorders in Pregnancy Associated With Increase in ASD and ADHD in Offspring

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
“Blood Pressure” by Bernard Goldbach is licensed under CC BY 2.0Ali Khashan, PhD
Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology
School of Public Health & INFANT Centre
University College Cork
Cork, Ireland

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: There is some evidence to suggest an increased likelihood of neurodevelopmental disorders in relation to hypertensive disorders in pregnancy, however consensus is lacking. Considering hypertensive disorders in pregnancy are among the most common prenatal complication, we decided to synthesise the published literature on this topic by conducting a comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis.

Our main findings suggest that hypertensive disorders in pregnancy are associated with about 30% increase in the likelihood of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and ADHD in the offspring, compared to offspring not exposed to hypertensive disorders in pregnancy. Continue reading

Minerals in Baby Teeth Predictive of Autism Spectrum Disorder

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
“baby teeth” by Thomas Ricker is licensed under CC BY 2.0Christine Austin PhD
Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
New York, NY 10029

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Previous studies have shown that some metals (nutrients and toxicants) are absorbed and metabolized differently in children with autism spectrum disorder compared to neuro-typical children. However, it is not known when this dysregulation occurs and it is incredibly difficult to study prenatal metal metabolism. Teeth, which begin forming prenatally, grow by adding a new layer every day, much like the yearly growth rings in trees. Each layer formed captures many of the chemicals circulating in the body at the time.

We have developed a method to measure metals in these layers to build a timeline of metal exposure during the prenatal and early childhood period. We found that the cycles of copper and zinc metabolism were disrupted in children with ASD and used this feature to develop a method to predict the emergence of autism spectrum disorder with 90% accuracy.

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No Link Found Between Autism and Maternal Fish Ingested During Pregnancy

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
“Fish” by Dhruvaraj S is licensed under CC BY 2.0Dr Caroline M Taylor
Wellcome Trust Research Fellow
Centre for Child and Adolescent Health
Bristol Medical School, University of Bristol
Oakfield House, Oakfield Grove, Bristol

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Mercury is a toxic metal that is widespread in the environment. In pregnancy, mercury in the mother’ bloodstream is transferred through the placenta to the fetus, where is can affect development of the nervous system. Mercury from vaccines has been the focus of attention particularly in regard to a link with autism in children. However, the amount of mercury used in the vaccines is small in comparison with mercury from the diet and atmospheric pollution, and in the EU at least, childhood vaccines no longer contain this preservative. The fear that mercury is linked to autism has persisted, despite increasing evidence that this is not the case.

The aim of our study was to look at mercury from the diet rather than vaccines – specifically from fish – in pregnant women. We measured the women’s mercury levels in their blood and asked them about how much fish they ate. We then followed up their children for 9 years and recorded how many of them had autism diagnosed within that time. We also measured how many of them had autist traits by measuring their social and communication difficulties.  The data were part of the Children of the 90s study (Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children – ALSPAC), which is based in Bristol, UK.

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Balovaptan Has Potential to Improve Social Interaction and Communication in Autism Spectrum Disorder

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Dr Kevin Sanders, MD Principle Medical Director-Product Development Neuroscience Assistant Professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics Vanderbilt University

Dr. Sanders

Dr Kevin Sanders, MD
Principle Medical Director-Product Development Neuroscience
Assistant Professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics
Vanderbilt University 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this announcement? 

Response: The FDA has granted Roche Breakthrough Therapy Designation for its investigational oral medicine balovaptan (previously known as RG7314), a vasopressin 1a (V1a) receptor antagonist for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

FDA Breakthrough Therapy Designation for balovaptan is primarily based on efficacy findings in the VANILLA (Vasopressin ANtagonist to Improve sociaL communication in Autism) study, a Phase II trial of balovaptan in adults with ASD. Trial results were first presented at the International Congress for Autism Research (IMFAR) in May 2017. Treatment effects were observed on the Vineland-II (secondary endpoint) and also demonstrated that balovaptan was safe and well tolerated by the subjects in the study. The Vineland-II is a scale that measures socialization, communication and daily living skills. This data was presented to the FDA and is part of the basis of the Breakthrough Designation.  Continue reading

Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells May Improve Symptoms in Children with Autism

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Michael G. Chez, M.D. Director of Pediatric Neurology Sutter Memorial Hospital Director of the Pediatric Epilepsy and Autism Programs Sutter Neuroscience Group 

Dr. Michael Chez

Michael G. Chez, M.D.
Director of Pediatric Neurology Sutter Memorial Hospital
Director of the Pediatric Epilepsy and Autism Programs
Sutter Neuroscience Group 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? 

Response: The study looked at possible use of autologous cord blood as a source of stem cells in patients with autism. The patients had to have fairly good genetic screening per protocol and had confirmation of autism to participate.

The use of cord blood was a pilot cross over double blind study with hypothesis that a post natal factor or immune dysregulation may add to the autism clinical phenotype.

Cord blood ( the baby’s own from birth) is a safe source of mixed stem cell types and should be safe from rejection or autoimmune reaction in theory.

Infusion /placebo or placebo/infusion was randomized and observed and tested every 3 months with switch to other wing of treatment at 0 and 6 months. Total observation was over 1 year.

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Subtle Motor Biomarker May Be Essential Feature of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Indiana University graduate student Di Wu poses for a portrait in Swain Hall on Friday, Dec. 22, 2017.

Di Wu credit: James Brosher

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Di Wu, Msc
PhD candidate at Indiana University
Graduate Research Assistant
Department of Physics
Indiana University Bloomington
Linked-in: www.linkedin.com/in/di-wu-3a197373 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Current clinical diagnosis and evaluations of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). has remained subjective in nature. There is a need to have objective assessments for the disorder. We discovered in this study an important motion feature that was unknown before. This feature provides a clear screening of ASD. It gave a remarkable quantitative connection between the way children with ASD move and their psychiatric scores, like the IQ score and the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale. This connection we captured suggests that the motor feature may be an essential core feature characterizing ASD deficits, as well as neurodevelopment in general.

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Brain Signals Reflect Social Anxiety and Performance Fears in ASD

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Tamara Rosen

Tamara Rosen

Tamara Rosen
Graduate student in Clinical Psychology
Stony Brook University

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Approximately 40 percent of youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are diagnosed with a co-occurring anxiety disorder.  Social anxiety is a common presenting problem for these youth.

Youth with ASD and increased social anxiety have heightened threat sensitivity, particularly in relation to performance fears, as measured by a brain signal response called the error-related negativity (ERN), which measures response to errors. The threat sensitivity-performance fears association remained even after controlling for anxiety symptoms other than social fearfulness.

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Lack of Folic Acid Supplements During Pregnancy Linked With Increased Autism Risk in Children Exposed to Seizure Drugs In Utero

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Dr. Marte Bjørk, MD PhD Department of Clinical Medicine University of Bergen, Department of Neurology Haukeland University Hospital Bergen, Norway

Dr. Marte Bjørk

Dr. Marte Bjørk, MD PhD
Department of Clinical Medicine
University of Bergen,
Department of Neurology
Haukeland University Hospital
Bergen, Norway

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: In utero antiepileptic drug exposure are associated with neurodevelopmental problems in the child. We looked into if maternal folate during pregnancy could reduce the risk of autistic traits in children of women in need of antiepileptic drugs in pregnancy. The rationale for the hypothesis that folate could be beneficial, was that many antiepileptic drugs interact with folate metabolism. Folic acid supplement use is also associated with slightly reduced risk of autism in children of women from the general population.

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Mechanism Identified Linking ASD and Intellectual Disability, Opening Door To Development of Treatment Options

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Woo-Yang Kim, Ph.D Associate Professor Department of Developmental Neuroscience  Munroe-Meyer Institute University of Nebraska Medical Center Omaha, NE 68198-5960

Dr-Woo-Yang Kim

Woo-Yang Kim, Ph.D
Associate Professor
Department of Developmental Neuroscience
Munroe-Meyer Institute
University of Nebraska Medical Center
Omaha, NE 68198-5960

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response:  Autism impairs the ability of individuals to communicate and interact with others. About 75 percent of individuals with autism also have intellectual disability, which is characterized by significant limitations in cognitive functions and adaptive behaviors. While autism and intellectual disability are currently defined using behavioral criteria, little is known about the neuropathogenesis of these conditions.

Recent genetic studies have reported that haploinsufficiency of ARID1B causes autism and intellectual disability. However, the neurobiological function of ARID1B during brain development is unknown.

Our study investigated the neurobiological role of the gene in brain development. Using genetically-modified mice, we found that Arid1b haploinsufficiency leads to an excitation-inhibition imbalance by reducing the number of GABAergic interneurons in the cerebral cortex. Furthermore, we showed that treatment with a GABAA-receptor positive allosteric modulator rescues ASD-like behavior and cognitive dysfunction in Arid1b-haploinsufficient mice, suggesting an association between lower numbers of GABAergic interneurons and behavioral outcomes.

Our findings suggest a pathogenic mechanism for Autism Spectrum Disorder and intellectual disability.

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Novel PDE4 Inhibitor Improves Symptoms of Autism Disorder Fragile X Syndrome in Animal Model

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Dr. Mark E. Gurney, PhD MBA

Dr. Gurney

Dr. Mark E. Gurney, PhD MBA
Chairman & CEO, Tetra Discovery Partners Inc.

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Fragile X is a genetic condition. Affected patients display a range of behavioral and other symptoms, including seizures, sleep disorders, anxiety, irritability, hyperactivity, autism, mild-to-severe cognitive impairment and intellectual disability.

BPN14770 is a novel therapeutic agent that selectively inhibits phosphodiesterase-4D (PDE4D). Inhibition of PDE4 has been validated as a treatment strategy by many research groups in the Fragile X field, but non-selective PDE4 inhibitors have been associated with significant GI side-effects that have limited those drugs’ use. As a selective inhibitor, such side-effects were not seen for BPN14770 in a Phase 1 clinical trial in healthy young and elderly adults.

In the current study, daily treatment of Fragile X knock-out (FXS) mice with BPN14770 showed a reduction in hyperarousal, improved social interactions and natural behaviors, and changes in nerve structure in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the portion of that brain associated with cognition. Moreover, the drug’s benefit persisted for two weeks after all drug was cleared from the mice. At the same time, the behavior of normal mice treated with the drug remained unchanged. Examination of neurons from the prefrontal cortex of the treated FXS mice showed an improvement in dendritic spine morphology.

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Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders Lower in Black and Hispanic Children

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Maureen Durkin, PhD, DrPH Professor and Interim Chair Department of Population Health Sciences University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health Madison, WI

Prof. Durkin

Maureen Durkin, PhD, DrPH
Professor and Interim Chair
Department of Population Health Sciences
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health
Madison, WI 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Previous studies of the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) among children in the U.S. have found two consistent patterns.  One is a higher prevalence among white non-Hispanic children than among black non-Hispanic or Hispanic children.  The other is a positive socioeconomic gradient, meaning that ASD prevalence in the U.S. is found to increase with increasing income and other indicators of socioeconomic status.

One of the findings of this new study is that the racial and ethnic differences in autism spectrum disorder prevalence are not explained by socioeconomic factors, because even after adjusting for socioeconomic factors, ASD prevalence was found to be significantly lower in black and Hispanic children than in white non-Hispanic children.  Another finding is that the gap in ASD prevalence between children of high and low socioeconomic status did not change over time between 2002 and 2010, though the overall prevalence of ASD more than doubled during this period.

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Multivitamins in Pregnancy May Be Associated With Lower Autism Risk

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Elizabeth DeVilbiss, PhD MPH
Dornsife School of Public Health
Drexel University

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Unfortunately, not much is known about how diet during pregnancy affects autism risk.  There have been studies in recent years about varied aspects of diet during pregnancy and autism risk involving multivitamins, iron, folic acid, vitamin D, and more, but the evidence is still inconclusive.

After adjusting for several potentially influencing factors in both mothers and children, we found that multivitamin use, with or without additional iron and/or folic acid, was associated with a lower likelihood of child autism spectrum disorder with intellectual disability relative to mothers who did not use folic acid, iron, and multivitamins.

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Autism Spectrum Disorder Found To Be Highly Heritable

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Sven Sandin, PhD Assistant Professor Department of Psychiatry Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai New York, NY 10029

D. Sandin

Sven Sandin, PhD Assistant Professor
Department of Psychiatry
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
New York, NY 10029 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: In 2014, we estimated the heritability of autism to be approximately 50%. Motivating us then was the lack of studies in autism heritability using population based and the findings from a twin-study in California finding the heritability to be substantially lower than the 80-90% estimated in previous studies. Since then continued efforts working with the questions on heritability and environmental factors for autism we found differences between different methods and different samples. When we went back to our previous data we found the heritability of autism to be higher than previously estimated. We found that our previous result was due to a methodological artifact where the adjustment for differences in follow-up used in that manuscript underestimated the heritability. Using methods used in other heritability studies the heritability is now estimated to 84%. Importantly, as previously concluded, there is no support for any ‘shared environmental factors’ in the etiology of autism, e.g. environmental factors shared between two siblings.

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