Fresh off the press, we’ve received news that doctors from the University of California Davis have identified two biologically different subtypes of autism in a breakthrough study.
Scientists say that the findings are a key step towards understanding the causes of autism and developing effective treatments – and maybe even a cure.
Researchers at the UC Davis’s MIND Institute have been studying the brain growth, environmental exposure and genetic make-up of 350 children since 2006 as part of the Autism Phenome Project.
So far, they have identified two different strains of autism. One group of children--all boys--had enlarged brains, and most regressed into autism within 18 months, while another group all appeared to have improperly functioning immune systems that contributed to their autism.
This kind of research continues to complement earlier findings that have linked some cases of autism with genetic alterations that affect brain development in children.
Again, the significance of this study is that it could help tailor treatments specifically to the child and therefore improve the ability of early intervention in changing some of the behavioral and social patterns affected by autism.
After all, for an autistic child with a damaged immune system, it would likely do little good to prescribe a treatment that targets the synaptic functioning in the brain.
I believe lead researcher David Amaral, a UC Davis psychiatry professor, made an appropriate comparison between treating autism and treating cancer when he said, “If we were trying to cure all cancer at the same time, it would be hopeless. Well, the same is true for autism. My guess is that there just isn't going to be a single diagnostic marker for autism -- there's going to be a whole panel."
My hope is, over time, scientists will continue to do groundbreaking work in identifying all the different strains of autism, so we can move forward in treating the condition and finding a cure.
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.