Scientists find potential treatment for autism

Bengaluru scientists find potential treatment for autism

One in 66 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

 Representative image. Credit: iStock Photo

For decades, parents of children with autism spectrum disorder were told that barring early interventions, that there is no cure for the disorder which alters socialisation and communication skills. Now, a group of Indian researchers have found that a molecule could open the way for a potential treatment.

According to Sundar Rajan, President of the Autism Society of India (Bengaluru chapter), one in 66 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). “This is an extraordinarily high incidence rate that has massive implications for the quality of life of the person and caregivers,” Rajan said, stressing that his own 29-year-old son was diagnosed with autism at the age two following persistent non-verbalisation and other social problems.

“Although we tried everything, from early interventions, the promises of homeopathic drugs and even spiritual guidance, nothing has worked. The simple fact is that whether a person has high or low-level autism, that person would need life-long supervision,” he added.

Autism spectrum disorder is a wide range of symptoms varying in severity, related to brain development affecting perception, subsequently hobbling social interaction and communication. It is caused by disruptions to neuronal connections in the brain.

However, researchers at the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Research (JNCASR) in the city, a new compound called “6BIO” has been found, in animal studies, to improve neuronal function, learning and memory while reducing epileptic seizures.

In the present work, PhD student Vijaya Verma (the lead author) and researchers in neurodevelopmental disorders at JNCASR demonstrated the potential of 6BIO to treat ASD and intellectual disabilities in a pre-clinical mouse model called Syngap1.  

Associate Professor James Clement Chelliah, whose research focus is on autism spectrum disorders, discovered that the heterozygous mutation in Syngap1 gene causes autism. “Autism is caused by disruption in communications between neurons and for a long-time people have been hoping to restore these communications between neurons using drug therapies,” Dr Chelliah said.

Associate Professor Dr Ravi Manjithaya of JNCASR’s Molecular Biology and Genetics Unit who also worked in the study explained that 6BIO, in mice studies, was found to restore neural functions not only when administered during the developmental stage of mice (equivalent of baby (1-2 years) and childhood stages (3-6 years) but also after mid-childhood (7-11 years) when most of the brain regions are considered to have formed properly.

This has prompted the interest of drug companies. Researchers will collaborate with top researchers in the United States to test the compound on human patient derived cells

“However, this does not mean that there will be a sudden cure,” added Dr Manjithaya. “There is a long and arduous process for drug discoveries to take place and could take about 12 years to complete. The molecule has to be tested for toxicity, its solubility pattern has to be worked out.”

Other authors of the study are M J Vijay Kumar, Kavita Sharma, Sridhar Rajaram, Ravi Muddashetty and Thomas Behnisch.

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