A Cure for Autism? No, but a welcome step forward

What is autism? Can we cure it? Should we even try to? All these questions are raised again by some new research into the role of a drug called Lamotrigine,  which was originally developed to treat epilepsy. It’s all so intriguing that we’ve two pieces for you, one from Caitlin Tilley of the Mail [1] and one from Psychreg.[2] In fact, their first paragraph was so good that we consider it to be a masterpiece of science journalism and repeat here as a model, for it sums up the whole thing masterfully:

Behavioural disorders found in autism are linked to various genetic changes. Researchers at Hector Institute for Translational Brain Research (HITBR) discovered a new molecular factor causing this. Normally, the MYT1L transcription factor preserves nerve cells’ molecular identity. But when it’s switched off genetically in human cells or mice, it causes autism symptoms and functional changes. By using a drug that obstructs sodium channels in cell membranes, the consequences of MYT1L failure can be undone and the behavioural and functional issues in mice can be reduced.

All of which raises questions. Firstly, the research: is Autistic Spectrum Disorder(ASD) in mice really the same as it is in humans? Haven’t people been investigating anti epilepsy drugs and ASD for more than twenty years? And isn’t the whole ASD thing a bit complex anyway? Do we really understand as well as we do things like star formation or liver cancer? [3]

Secondly, the ethical problem. Alright, we know how difficult it can be for some families to have a member with ASD.  But what would a “cure” involve, exactly?  The research of Dr Mall and his team is nowhere near that yet, as they would be the first to admit.  But it is one more step into that morass of the unknown, the human brain and its mysterious workings. And that we do welcome, unreservedly.

[1] Scientists ‘CURE autism’ using $3 epilepsy drug in mice – in potential breakthrough  | Daily Mail Online

[2] New Drug Alleviates Autism-Associated Behaviour in Mice | Psychreg

[3] Autism spectrum – Wikipedia

#asd #autism #epilepsy #neurology

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