Current Trends in Autism Research

In a study assessing the trends in autism research it was shown that out of 820 sampled papers, the main topic of 129 of those papers dicussed the genetics of autism; and only 18 of those papers were dedicated to different etiological hypotheses of the disorder.

 

It has been confirmed that ASD children have significant alterations in DNA with many genes either overexpressed or suppressed, and so most research is focused on finding genes that might play a major role in ASD development, rather than on the underlying mechanisms that lead to genetic changes. Taking into account that in ASD, it's not a matter of genetic mutations, but instead alterations in gene expression, there should be a trigger causing these alterations.

 

Thus, genetic changes should be considered as a pathogenic element, not as etiologic. In the scientific community, it's widely accepted that genetic changes are one of the factors in ASD etiopathogenesis, but there is no consensus regarding the etiology, or initial factor triggering the initiation of the disorder.

At the same time, the increasing number of scientific publications shows more and more evidence of the inflammatory component playing a major role in ASD. In a systematic review by Rossignol and Frye, the publications on the etiology of autism with the assessment of the strength of evidence were analyzed. The largest number of publications showed an association between ASD and inflammation/aberrant immune system (416 out of 437 publications, 95% showed positive association). Apart from being prevalent in number, the articles, which linked ASD to inflammation also had the strongest evidence level.

Along with this, the number of publications showing the role of infections is increasing. Several of these large studies require special attention:

• A Swedish study published this year, in which 1.8 million children participated, proved that any viral infection during pregnancy significantly increases the risk of ASD in children.

 

A 2016 study shows strong evidence of the role of inflammation in ASD, showing that a minimum of 69% of ASD children had neuroinflammation and microglial activation.

In a Danish study, in which all children born in Denmark from 1980 to 2005, were analyzed, it was found that admission to a hospital due to maternal viral infection in the first trimester and maternal bacterial infection in the second trimester was associated with the diagnosis of ASD in the offspring.

However, when it comes to treatment, this scientific knowledge is ignored. Children are treated with anything but antiviral and anti-inflammatory medications. 

In one of the studies, 764 parents of children with autism were interviewed about the types of treatment that were administered to their children and the results showed that 111 types of treatment were used. The most common were interventional corrective therapies, including speech therapy, interventional therapy, ABA therapy, etc., as well as the use of nutritional supplements, including vitamin B6, fatty acids, and magnesium. Among the most common drugs were sleeping and sedative pills, antipsychotics, antihypertensive drugs, and antidepressants.

In the authors' next study in 2018, the authors analyzed the effectiveness of all these types of drugs and therapies using a meta-analysis of existing clinical studies. The data showed that, despite the different approaches, there was no therapy that provided significant improvements. Therefore, it was concluded that there was no effective treatment for children with ASD.

There were attempts to treat ASD using the etiotropic approach, but for one reason or another, these attempts were ignored.

 

For example, Dr. Michael J. Goldberg, an American pediatrician, the author of the book "The Myth of Autism: How a Misunderstood Epidemic Is Destroying Our Children" was published in 2011, wrote that "Epidemic cannot be due to a developmental or genetic disorder. The only possible cause for this type of disorder/dysfunction [autism] has become immune and/or viral in origin".

 

He has been successful in trying to treat viral roots of autism disorders with Valacyclovir, an antiviral medication. However, as Dr. Goldberg wrote in his book, neither his nor his colleagues' applications for research funding were not approved.

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