UCSF Shows Success of Randomized Clinical Trial for Kids With Autism, Establishing it as a Time and Cost Effective Tool

UC San Francisco researchers have completed the first Internet-based clinical trial for children with autism, establishing it as a viable and cost effective method of conducting high-quality and rapid clinical trials in this population. “Recruitment for clinical trials in children with autism is one of the biggest challenges we face in studying potential treatments, and we found that process to be accelerated and streamlined by using existing online communities for enrollment,” said lead author Stephen Bent, associate professor of medicine at UCSF. “This trial can serve as a model for how to efficiently test potential treatments through the growing power of online communities.”

New light-sensitive protein enables simpler, more powerful optogenetics.

Optogenetics, a technology that allows scientists to control brain activity by shining light on neurons, relies on light-sensitive proteins that can suppress or stimulate electrical signals within cells. This technique requires a light source to be implanted in the brain, where it can reach the cells to be controlled. MIT engineers have now developed the first light-sensitive molecule that enables neurons to be silenced noninvasively, using a light source outside the skull. This makes it possible to do long-term studies without an implanted light source. The protein, known as Jaws, also allows a larger volume of tissue to be influenced at once. This noninvasive approach could pave the way to using optogenetics in human patients to treat epilepsy and other neurological disorders, the researchers say, although much more testing and development is needed.

Just because it's in the brain doesn't mean it's destiny

A team of University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers recently showed these kinds of stressors, experienced in early life, might be changing the parts of developing children's brains responsible for learning, memory and the processing of stress and emotion. These changes may be tied to negative impacts on behavior, health, employment and even the choice of romantic partners later in life. "We haven't really understood why things that happen when you're 2, 3, 4 years old stay with you and have a lasting impact," says Seth Pollak, co-leader of the study and UW-Madison professor of psychology. Yet, early life stress has been tied before to depression, anxiety, heart disease, cancer, and a lack of educational and employment success, says Pollak, who is also director of the UW Waisman Center's Child Emotion Research Laboratory.

A drug that blocks the action of the enzyme Cdk5 could substantially reduce brain damage if administered shortly after a stroke

“If you inhibit Cdk5, then the vast majority of brain tissue stays alive without oxygen for up to one hour,” said Dr. James Bibb, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology and Neurotherapeutics at UT Southwestern and senior author of the study. “This result tells us that Cdk5 is a central player in nerve cell death.” More importantly, development of a Cdk5 inhibitor as an acute neuroprotective therapy has the potential to reduce stroke injury. “If we could block Cdk5 in patients who have just suffered a stroke, we may be able to reduce the number of patients in our hospitals who become disabled or die from stroke. Doing so would have a major impact on health care,” Dr. Bibb said.

Autism Awareness Month each April brings blue lights and puzzle shapes out to shine in many communities – but does it actually lead to increased autism awareness?

Using the Google trends tool (google.com/trends), they analyzed web search queries for the terms “autism” and “Asperger’s” from January 2004 through April 2014 in the United States. They also compared these trends with searches for “ADHD” to assess the possible influence of broader trends in public interest in mental health issues of special interest to younger populations. Each April, from 2004 through 2014 (except 2005), web search interest in autism spiked – up by an average of 26 percent between March and April, followed by an average decrease by 24 percent between April and May. Even sharper April spikes have occurred from 2007 through 2014, with the average March-April increase at 33 percent in those years.