Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) affect about 1 percent of the world’s population, and they are caused by a variety of genetic mutations. One of those mutations has now been singled out, and the autism caused by that gene may well be reversible.
The mechanical way in which that gene impacts the brain has been discovered as well, which could be a huge leap forward in treating, or possibly even curing, autism. The gene in question is one of many, not all of which work in the same way.
“There are many different genetic mutations causing autism, and they are all very rare. This heterogeneity makes it difficult to develop effective treatments,” says Gaia Novarino, a professor at IST Austria and lead author of the study. “Our analysis not only revealed a new autism-linked gene, but also identified the mechanism by which its mutation causes autism.”
However, there are other genetic mutations that function in a similar way, meaning that this discovery may allow us to address the issues caused by an entire subgroup of ASDs.
What is perhaps most exciting is that, in lab mice, the effects of the mutation were found to be reversible. While it will be some time before this research results in a cure or treatment that could be used in humans, it does open up the possibility of treating patients with gene therapy or other medical treatments. Up until now we’ve tended to think of autism as something that people have to deal with for their entire lives, but for some people, that could change.
Discoveries like this tend to build upon each other, so it’s entirely possible that this discovery could lead to others, which could help us unlock even more of the mechanical works of ASDs.
While a “cure” for autism may be a long way off, every new piece of information is helpful, especially for parents and teachers who work with children with ASDs. The more we know about autism, the easier it is to combat myths about ASDs, like the persistent lie that they’re caused by vaccines, and allow research and spending to be focused in more beneficial directions.