Managing Editor's Note: Last week Katie Wright wrote about the paltry assortment of research conducted by Autism Speaks. Here, SafeMinds shares their research from 2013. Thank you, Safeminds.
A look back at Safe Minds Research in 2013 – “Research that focuses on need to know science.”
It is now widely accepted that environmental factors play a huge role in the etiology of autism. Yet, even with this fact, most autism research continues to be diverted into less fruitful areas. To date, the autism community has very little government-funded research that helps us to understand why some children are more vulnerable to environmental exposures and what those exposures might be so they can be avoided and individuals with autism successfully treated. That is why SafeMinds has been laser focused on environmental research and the gaps that exist in our knowledge of causes, treatments, recovery and ultimately, prevention.
Over the past decade, SafeMinds has funded approximately $1.5 million in research with the help of supporters like you. This research has lead to the publication of over 20 research articles / and a greater understanding of the mechanisms that underlie autism spectrum disorders. Below is a list of projects that SafeMinds funded in 2013, so be on the lookout for several new publications soon. We are proud of our research accomplishments but there is so much more we need to know to help those suffering with autism now. If you would like to help us fund more of these kinds of studies please visit www.safeminds.org and click on the “donate now” button to support our research efforts. All donations are tax-deductible.
Lyn Redwood, RN, MSN and Laura Bono
1. There is emerging evidence supporting the hypothesis that autism may result from a combination of genetic susceptibility and exposure to environmental toxins at critical moments in development. Recent research identified a much higher prevalence rate of autism among grandchildren of Acrodynia (pink disease) survivors, which supports the hypothesis that mercury susceptibility may be a risk factor for autism. SafeMinds is currently funding additional research in an effort to identify genetic idiosyncratic sensitivity to mercury in an effort to be able to identify infants who are more vulnerable to mercury exposure so preventive treatments can be started early and efforts made to avoid unnecessary exposures.
2. Vaccination is inherently an immune activating process and many parents of children with ASD report episodes of regression after vaccination. While vaccines have been tested for efficacy in protecting against pathogenic infection, there have been no studies investigating whether immune challenge through vaccination in early infancy could negatively affect neurodevelopment. Therefore, SafeMinds is funding studies in an animal model to determine if immune challenge through vaccination can affect the various cell populations in the developing brain, including purkinje cell number, hippocampal cell size and microglia.
3. Mitochondrial “insufficiency” has been described in a subset of children with autism, but specifics regarding etiology and the extent of the insufficiency have been difficult to define. SafeMinds is currently funding research to monitor mitochondrial energy efficiency in live cells derived from children with autism and controls in an effort to determine triggers which may result in mitochondrial impairment and what intervention can be done to restore mitochondrial function.
4. Recent research has documented multiple abnormalities that relate to immune system impairments in autism. To date, little research has been done to look at effective treatments for restoring proper immune system function and prevention to avoid immune dysfunction. One emerging area that offers promise is biome reconstitution. SafeMinds is currently supporting a ground-breaking assessment of the interaction between biome depletion and immune-mediated, cognitive dysfunction during early life in a rodent model. This research may lead to promising treatments for children and adults with autism who suffer from immune dysfunction and possibly prevention measures in those vulnerable to immune insults.