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15 September 2010 by Andy Coghlan

THE first trial of a drug intended to rebalance the brain chemistry of people with autism has helped symptoms in most of the 25 volunteers who tested it – with reductions in irritability and tantrums, and improvements in social skills.

The announcement coincides with news that the US federal government has finalised its financial package for Hannah Poling. In 2008 the government concluded that vaccinations may have resulted in her autism-like symptoms. The family will receive $1.5 million, plus $500,000 annually to cover the costs of caring for her.

Her case, however, is likely to be unique – she has a rare underlying genetic condition affecting her mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cell. This was judged to account for the symptoms she developed after vaccination.

As the debate over vaccination and autism rumbles on in the US, the results from the drug trial of arbaclofen are encouraging. Although doctors sometimes prescribe drugs for autism, they are usually antidepressants and anti-psychotics and aimed at specific symptoms.

Read in Full:  http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727783.900-autism-drug-aims-to-balance-brain-signals.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=online-news

 

Autism breakthrough as drug that eases distressing symptoms is successfully tested on patients for first time

By David Derbyshire
Last updated at 7:47 AM on 16th September 2010

A drug for autism has been hailed as the first treatment that could aid the condition.

In a clinical trial, researchers found that it eased many of the distressing symptoms, helping sufferers improve their social skills and reduce tantrums. They were also able to make eye contact more frequently and became less irritable.

It is the first time the drug has been successfully tested on patients. And although it is many years away from being available here, the scientist believe their work could pave the way for treatments.

Researcher Dr Craig Erickson, from the Indiana University School of Medicine, who helped run the trial, explained: ‘We observed marked improvement in the majority of patients treated in the study, including reductions in agitation and tantrums.

‘This work will potentially open up a door to treating disorders that has, until recently, been firmly shut.’

About one in 100 in the UK are diagnosed with an autism disorder. The severity ranges dramatically, but all sufferers experience problems with communication, imagination and their social relationships.

Although doctors prescribe anti-depressants and anti-psychotics for particular symptoms, there are no specialist autism drugs.

The new drug, Arbaclofen, is intended to rebalance the brain chemistry of those with autism.

It was tested on 25 children with the condition aged between six and 17, over eight weeks. They suffered few side effects and by the end of the trial were calmer and more sociable.

They made eye contact more easily and were less anxious than at the start.

One teenager who took part in the trial was agitated at the start and was unable to stay in the room with the researchers for more than a few minutes. However, by the end, the patient was writing notes to the scientists and seemed less anxious and less aggressive.

Previous studies have shown that people living with the condition produce too much of the brain chemical glutamate which excites brain cells. Some may also make too little of another neurotransmitter called gamme amino butyric acid, New Scientist magazine reports today.

Dr Randall Carpenter, of Seaside Therapeutics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which has developed the drug, said: ‘We are trying to normalise signalling functions within the brain.

‘Too much activation with glutamate makes people with autism very sensitive to loud noises and other sudden changes in the environment, increasing anxiety and fear.’

Arbaclofen ‘may stop them being oversensitive’, Dr Carpenter added. The results of the trial were so promising, that a larger-scale test is planned. The results have not been published in a medical journal.

Autism charities welcomed the trial, but stressed that the number of people taking part was small.

The results could also be biased because the drug was not compared to a placebo, a harmless ‘dummy’ drug. And the assessment of the children was subjective, meaning that they could be misinterpreted.

Amanda Batten, of the National Autistic Society, said: ‘As the nature of autism is so complex, many interventions have been tried and tested over the years, but what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another.

‘Further rigorous research is required into potential interventions, such as Arbaclofen, to properly understand and assess the impact that they could have on people’s lives.’

Source:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1312350/Autism-drug-eases-symptoms-successfully-tested-patients.html



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