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Autism News Round-Up: Drug Failures, Genetic Mutations, and Autism and Girls

First up this week in our round-up of the top autism-related news stories making the rounds, the autism research community hit upon a dour note recently when a series of promising drugs that have cropped up over the past five years have repeatedly failed. Just five years ago, researchers thought that a treatment for autism was right down the road due to a number of drugs created to treat the disorder Fragile X Syndrome.

The pharmaceutical company Novartis announced in the past week that two drug trials failed to show an experimental medication’s abilities to improve the conditions of adults and teens with Fragile X, a genetic disorder that advocates say would help pave the way for autism treatment. Robert Ring, the chief scientific officer of Autism Speaks, cautioned spectators to keep their expectations realistic and to remain optimistic.

“We’re just learning how to conduct clinical trials in this patient community,” Ring said. “That means we’re going to have some failures up front, but I don’t think it’s diminishing the excitement and interest in wanting to bring other opportunities. Not at all.”

Meanwhile, in the realm of genetic research and genomic technology, recent advances have identified several hundred genes as being risk factors for neurodevelopmental disorders, which include autism and schizophrenia. These disorders arise from abnormalities that happen while the brain is still developing.

Shedding new light on this condition, scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, CA have located a gene directly linked to these disorders, which also appears to be crucial for normal brain structure in prenatal developments. It often takes years for symptoms of autism to appear, with some not appearing until adolescence or even young adulthood. However, by studying how certain genes perform early on in life could assist in helping scientists to discover drugs and develop new treatments for autism and related disorders.

Finally in our news round-up for the week, as we’ve reported on in the past, this past year or two has seen autism researchers not only turn more of their attention towards young women and girls, but also better understand why girls are often diagnosed at a far lesser rate than boys (1 in 189 girls versus 1 in 42 boys). This is leading to an increased focus on young girls’ relationships with autism, with scientists developing methods to better detect symptoms in girls at a young age.

“I think it is harder to diagnose for one, harder to detect for parents,” said Isabelle Mosca, executive director of the Ventnor group Families for Autistic Children, or FACES. “Seeing someone who is extremely shy, you might write it off as they are extremely shy. I do think that the autism does look different in boys and girls.” It’s Mosca’s group FACES that seeks to raise awareness about autism in young girls, something that more and more organizations are doing in response to this increased awareness about girls and autism.