Posts Tagged ‘
Friday, March 1st, 2013
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may share genetic codes with mental illnesses including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia, according to new research published this week in the journal The Lancet. The New York Times has more:
[The study] was based on an examination of genetic data from more than 60,000 people world-wide. Its authors say it is the largest genetic study yet of psychiatric disorders. The findings strengthen an emerging view of mental illness that aims to make diagnoses based on the genetic aberrations underlying diseases instead of on the disease symptoms.
Two of the aberrations discovered in the new study were in genes used in a major signaling system in the brain, giving clues to processes that might go awry and suggestions of how to treat the diseases.
“What we identified here is probably just the tip of an iceberg,” said Dr. Jordan Smoller, lead author of the paper and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. “As these studies grow we expect to find additional genes that might overlap.”
The new study does not mean that the genetics of psychiatric disorders are simple. Researchers say there seem to be hundreds of genes involved and the gene variations discovered in the new study only confer a small risk of psychiatric disease.
Steven McCarroll, director of genetics for the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of Harvard and M.I.T., said it was significant that the researchers had found common genetic factors that pointed to a specific signaling system.
“It is very important that these were not just random hits on the dartboard of the genome,” said Dr. McCarroll, who was not involved in the new study.
Image: Genetic markers, via Shutterstock
Friday, February 22nd, 2013
The gender discrepancy in diagnoses of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has long been studied, with boys being diagnosed far more often than girls. Researchers, in a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may be honing in on scientific explanation for why girls seem to have a “female protective effect” against ASD. More from The Boston Globe:
Researchers used two large databases of thousands of fraternal twins that included information about autistic behaviors, including problems with social interactions, communication, and repetitive behaviors. Since the siblings share similar genetic risk factors and environmental exposures, studying how the autistic traits the children in each family had was one way of trying to isolate the role gender could play in the disorder.
What the researchers found was a clear signal that girls were protected; in other words, females needed to have a greater burden of familial risk factors in order to manifest classical autistic behaviors. The researchers figured that out by comparing the siblings of two groups: girls whose behaviors put them in the top 10th percentile of autistic behaviors and boys who were similarly ranked. If gender had a protective effect, the researchers would expect girls to be more likely to have a sibling with autistic traits than boys in the same group. That’s because girls would need more familial risk factors to overcome the protective effect, and those same risk factors would also be experienced by their siblings.
John Gabrieli, a neuroscientist at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at the Massachusettts Institute of Technology, said that the study was striking because it shows evidence that something biological—in the genes or environment—is “muting” autistic traits in girls.
“It’s worth studying, practically, because it is so impressive. Because if you understood some of these mechanisms, maybe it would be a suggestion of a treatment for boys or prevention for boys, or a naturally-occurring preventive treatment,” Gabrieli said.
Image: Happy girl, via Shutterstock
Thursday, February 14th, 2013
Mothers who take folic acid supplements before and during pregnancy may have babies with a lower risk of being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a new study published this week in Journal of the American Medical Association. CNN.com has more on the study:
Researchers in Norway looked at data from 85,000 pregnancies, and found that women who took the supplement four weeks before pregnancy, and through the eighth week of pregnancy, were 39% less likely to have children with autism.
The Norwegian study is the largest to date on the benefits of folic acid for autism prevention, and marks one of the first tangible things a woman can do to reduce her risk of giving birth to a child with the disorder.
“This is pretty exciting,” said Alycia Halladay, senior director for environmental and clinical sciences for Autism Speaks, an autism advocacy group. “It actually supports the idea of actionable things women can do before they become pregnant, and right as conception happens.”
Experts have known for some time that taking folic acid can prevent neural tube birth defects like spina bifida in developing fetuses. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) guidelines call for all women of child-bearing age – not just those who plan to get pregnant – to take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily to prevent birth defects. The same dose appears to provide some benefit in preventing autism, according to the research.
The study supports earlier research from 2012 that found that women who take prenatal vitamins–which are rich in folic acid–also lower their babies’ autism risk by as much as 40 percent.
Image: Pregnant woman taking supplements, via Shutterstock
Friday, January 18th, 2013
The dream of every parent of a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD)–improvement to the point where the child no longer meets the diagnostic criteria for the disorder–is actually within reach for a small group of ASD patients, a new study led by researchers at the University of Connecticut has found. As Richard Rende writes in his Parents.com blog, Red Hot Parenting, the new study is the best clinical evidence to date that recovery is an option for some with ASD. From Richard’s post analyzing the new study:
A team of researchers (led by Dr. Deborah Fein at the University of Connecticut) identified 34 individuals with suspected recovery who had a clear documented history of ASD, but no longer met diagnostic criteria for it. By comparing this group to two other groups – a high-functioning ASD group (44 individuals), and a typical development group without ASD (34 individuals) – the study reported these two key findings:
- The 34 potential recovery cases not only no longer met criteria for ASD, but in fact lost all symptoms of ASD
- Their social and communicative functioning was within the nonautistic range (and as a group similar to the typical development group)
The study authors suggested the phrase “optimal outcome” for these individuals to convey the idea that their overall functioning across multiple domains was in the normative range. There was a wide age range in the sample – from 8 to 21 years – and the conclusion was that some children with a diagnosis and history of autism may in fact go on to experience an optimal outcome later in development.
More reports will come in the future from this research group on this sample. In particular, they will be analyzing collected data on intervention history to see if there were commonalities in those who experienced an optimal outcome. They will also be looking at psychiatric data to examine the possibility that some with optimal outcome experience anxiety, depression, and impulsivity.
For more on autism “recovery,” see this related Parents News Now story from last April: Study: Ten Percent of Kids ‘Bloom’ Out of Autism.
Image: Autism awareness ribbon, via Shutterstock
Monday, December 31st, 2012
As we turn our calendars to 2013, it’s only natural to look back at the year we’re leaving behind. To that end, Parents.com has published our picks for the top parenting stories of 2012.
Because the piece was written by your very own Parents News Now blogger, I can share with you that the original list contained 11 stories, on topics ranging from autism to to politics to vaccinations and food safety. As the year drew to a close, though, the scandal that led to the resignation of Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash, and the unspeakable tragedy of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, necessitated last-minute additions to the feature.
Click here to see the full list of the top 13 parenting news stories of 2012.
Wishing you all a peaceful, joyful 2013, and looking forward to continuing to provide you with the news that affects you, your children, and your families.
Categories: Must Read, Parenting News | Tags: 2012, Autism, Elmo, food safety, Kevin Clash, New Year, parenting news, parents, Parents.com, politics, vaccination