The Cure Autism Now Foundation is pleased to announce the funding of four new treatment awards, each with the potential for unlocking key components in the causes and treatment of autism. Among the recipients of our latest grants are O. Ivar Lovaas, Ph.D. of the University of California, Los Angeles, a pioneer in behavior intervention for autistic children who will be testing a new reading and writing program for visual learners, and Swedish scientist Dr. Andres Grubb of Lund University Hospital, whose project will examine abnormal neuropeptide activity in children with autism. Following is more information on these and our other two new grant awards.
Studies of Neuropeptide and Protease Patterns of Autistic Children to Elucidate Pathophysiological Mechanisms, Facilitate Diagnostics and Allow New Types of Treatment
Andres Grubb, M.D., Ph.D.
University Hospital Sweden
Autism is a disorder characterized by a disturbance in the communication and social interaction of the affected individuals. This is probably caused by a malfunction of the communication between the cells of the brain. The brain cells use various substances when they communicate with each other and neuropeptides constitute one very important type of such signal substances.
Neuropeptides are small peptides, containing a chain of from 3 to about 100 amino acids, that are produced and secreted by a brain cell, then taken up and influencing the behavior of brain cells in the vicinity of the first one. A disturbance in the brain function might therefore be reflected in an abnormal pattern of neuropeptides in the brain and in the two body fluids that surround and penetrate the brain, i.e. blood plasma and spinal fluid.
New methods have recently been introduced for simultaneous analysis of hundreds and thousands of peptides. Use of these methods, together with the recently elucidated human genome, have allowed very recent progress in finding new markers for disease mechanisms and early detection of common diseases like breast cancer, prostate cancer and ovarian cancer.
This project will use these new methods, sometimes called "proteomic techniques", to elucidate the disease mechanisms of autism, which may contribute to the development of new simple and reliable diagnostic methods as well as to the introduction of new treatment possibilities. Since several of the neuropeptides are produced by cleavage of larger precursor molecules by enzymes called proteases, we also aim to study whether persons with autism have a collection of such proteases that differs from the norm.
Grant Amount: $115,610
Reading and Writing Program for Visual Learners
O. Ivar Lovaas, Ph.D.
University of California at Los Angeles
Dr. Lovaas is known for developing and testing the methods of behavioral psychology to help children with autism and Asperger's Syndrome, eventually to be known as Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). He is the author of an early influential book on the subject, The Me Book.
Over the last 30 years, learning-based behavioral treatment (also known as ABA) has shown itself to be particularly successful when started before the age of 5, is provided 40 hours per week of one-to-one treatment for two or more years, and is conducted in the child's home and neighborhood with the participation of the child's parents.
Treatment outcome data show two relatively distinct groups of children. One group, labeled "vocal learners," learn to communicate with vocal speech and make significant progress in language, educational, social, and emotional development. The second group of children makes only minimal progress and fails to master vocal language, remaining significantly disabled in expressing themselves and understanding what parents and others try to communicate.
These children are likely to need protective care for the rest of their lives, necessitating discovery of more effective ways to teach them communication. It is recognized that this group of children have strength in visual forms of communication, such as signing and communicating with the use of pictures, and are referred to as "visual learners."
The newly developed Reading & Writing Program has been designed for visual learners to learn how to read and write so as to better communicate with their parents and teachers and thereby improve their treatment outcome.
Grant Amount: $80,069
Prevention of Autism Spectrum Disorders by Modulating T cell Responsiveness
David A. Ostrov, Ph.D.
University of Florida College of Medicine
This project aims to prevent autism by the development of drugs that bind to nervous system and immune response proteins. Links between immune system dysfunction and autism suggest that events within the first few years of life offer a brief window of opportunity to intervene with the disorder's progression.
The proposed research builds on recent discoveries made as the direct result of the Human Genome Project. A portion of the human genome associated with autism by genetic studies has been identified and provides the basis for the project. The research utilizes the cutting-edge techniques to design compounds capable of blocking events that initiate and promote autism spectrum disorders.
Grant Amount: $120,000
Vagus Nerve Stimulation and the Control of Social and Exploratory Behavioral Deficits in a Rodent Model of Autism
Benjamin Walker, Ph.D.
Previous studies have suggested that cerebellar abnormalities may be the key to social and exploratory deficits in autism. Since about a third of autistic individuals experience seizures, we plan to examine the possibility for limiting autistic behaviors via antiseizure brainstem and cerebellar circuitry. To this end, the proposed studies aim to support recent observations suggesting that the inhibition of particular areas of the brain stem, called the nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS) and the parabrachial nucleus (PBN), can alter specific social impairments in Sprague-Dawley rats that have received damage to a brain stem fiber pathway leading into the cerebellum during a specific time point during early postnatal development.
The project will also examine whether electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve, a major sensory/motor input into the brainstem, can also control the social impairments in these developmentally injured rats in a manner similar to its ability to control seizure behaviors in children and adults.
Grant Amount: $128,711