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Biotech Science

Mice Cured of Autism 233

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the of-mice-and-men dept.
noahisaac writes "My brother just sent me an article he posted for the Rett Syndrome Research Foundation about a cure for Rett Syndrome, a form of autism. According to the article, researchers successfully re-introduced a fully functional version of the MECP2 gene into mice that had been born with damaged MECP2 genes. Contrary to their expectations, the mice improved. In the article's words, 'restoration of fully functional MECP2 over a four week period eradicated tremors and normalized breathing, mobility and gait in mice that had previously been fully symptomatic and, in some cases, only days away from death.' The ramifications for people suffering from Rett Syndrome are obvious, but mutations of the MECP2 gene are also believed to be the cause of 'classic' autism, and a number of other neurological disorders."
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Mice Cured of Autism

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  • Misleading title (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Wuhao (471511) * on Thursday February 08, 2007 @09:14PM (#17942710)
    The rats never had autism -- they had Rett syndrome, which was cured. Why does the poster seem to feel that the results here can be generalized to a similar disorder, when it's not even well understood why it even worked for the first?
  • Jim Sinclair (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 08, 2007 @09:31PM (#17942872)
    From: http://www.autistics.org/library/dontmourn.html [autistics.org]

    Autism isn't something a person has, or a "shell" that a person is trapped inside. There's no normal child hidden behind the autism. Autism is a way of being. It is pervasive; it colors every experience, every sensation, perception, thought, emotion, and encounter, every aspect of existence. It is not possible to separate the autism from the person--and if it were possible, the person you'd have left would not be the same person you started with.

    This is important, so take a moment to consider it: Autism is a way of being. It is not possible to separate the person from the autism.

    Therefore, when parents say,

            "I wish my child did not have autism,"

    what they're really saying is,

            "I wish the autistic child I have did not exist, and I had a different (non-autistic) child instead."

    Read that again. This is what we hear when you mourn over our existence. This is what we hear when you pray for a cure. This is what we know, when you tell us of your fondest hopes and dreams for us: that your greatest wish is that one day we will cease to be, and strangers you can love will move in behind our faces.
  • Re:Algernon (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sinclair44 (728189) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @09:38PM (#17942944) Homepage
    I'm not quite sure what this comment should be modded, but 'funny' doesn't seem to be it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flowers_For_Algernon [wikipedia.org]
  • What then? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ChromeAeonium (1026952) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @09:52PM (#17943102)
    Okay, hypothetically, you cure someone from a form of autism. What then? There's still a social aspect to behavior, one that having whatever syndrome on the autistic spectrum is sure to leave a hole in. Who knows, on human patients who have grown up with, say, Asperger's, does anyone really know if their life will improve? They may already be beyond the socialization phase. There could be some kind of 'social shock' following this supposed cure. Nonetheless, we're probably a long ways of from seeing anything even close to this being done on humans.
  • Re:Jim Sinclair (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Capitalist1 (127579) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @10:10PM (#17943254)
    Damn, I wish my kid had been born alive. I know it would be a completely different kid, but, you know, it might have been better for him. // no kids, alive or otherwise.. just making a point
  • Re:Algernon (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jhantin (252660) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @10:37PM (#17943458)

    Alice called -- she wants your next progress report.

    This is slashdot, not alt.sysadmin.recovery -- not many people are likely to spot the reference here unless it involves Star Wars or Zero Wing.

  • by mshurpik (198339) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @10:38PM (#17943478)
    >mutations of the MECP2 gene are also believed to be the cause of 'classic' autism, and a number of other neurological disorders.

    Classic autism aside, I think a lot of people are suffering from a sociological autism that will *not* be improved by gene therapy. What is autism exactly, is there a definition? I can imagine one, but I'm not sure everyone is on the same page with this relatively new disease.

    In other words, I don't think gene therapy will get my dad to shop at designer clothing stores, get his car tuned, or hire contractors to improve his house.
  • word games... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 08, 2007 @10:48PM (#17943566)
    Hell, you could make that argument for ANYTHING.

    Therefore, when parents say,

                    "I wish my child did not have the flu,"

    what they're really saying is,

                    "I wish the sneezing, sniffling child I have did not exist, and I had a different (non-flu-having) child instead."

    Duh.
  • Re:Jim Sinclair (Score:2, Insightful)

    by QueenOfSwords (179856) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @11:12PM (#17943802) Homepage
    Well... thats fine for all of you higher functioning types on the spectrum (and the Slashdot Self-Diagnosed Aspergers Posse) but many autistics are *severely* disabled, with no speech, and no chance of an independant life. You can choose not to be treated or 'cured', and that's fine, as your condition is managable. But this could mean that some severely disabled people get the chance to express themselves and *have* an identity.

    This experiment won't 'cure' autism directly, but it will provide data that might provide treatment for others.
  • Mod Parent up.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by pwizard2 (920421) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @11:19PM (#17943866)
    ...If I had the mod points I would do it myself.

    I have been officially diagnosed with Aspergers and I can attest to much of what the parent has stated.

    If I had been born with a typical neural system I would not be the person that I am today. True, I spent time (and still do) obsessively pursuing new interests while other people were busy making friends, but those things that I learn are all useful and many of them allow me to earn a decent income. In fact, I suspect having Aspergers allows me to become proficient at new things more quickly than most people because once I get interested in something I work at it every chance I get.

    In a way, having Aspergers is an asset despite the price that I pay for it (the price can be rather steep in the areas of personal relationships and physical aptitude since I also have Dyspraxia [wikipedia.org]) -- most people spend their lives becoming specialized on only a few things; due to the fact that I remember everything about my past interests I am constantly becoming more versatile and I have an ever-increasing skill set.
  • Rett!=autism. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 08, 2007 @11:21PM (#17943878)
    Rett syndrome is not even considered a form of autism. They are both pervasive developmental disorders, but they are not both autistic spectrum disorders. This article is horrendous.
  • Re:Jim Sinclair (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Belfry_Bats (1061788) on Friday February 09, 2007 @12:02AM (#17944190)
    That's the most absurd and soppy thing I've read all day.

    It may be true for high functioning autistic children, but it's cruel to put guilt trips on parents who have autistic kids who can't speak or be potty-trained for wishing their beloved children were not stricken with such a horrible disorder. It's a 'way of being' as much as Down Syndrome is.

    (and I speak as someone with (diagnosed) Asperger's and two severely autistic siblings.)
  • by Short Circuit (52384) * <mikemol@gmail.com> on Friday February 09, 2007 @12:15AM (#17944298) Homepage Journal
    I just wanted to say three things:

    • I am autistic.
    • I have personality quirks I normally keep under control.
    • I do not want my personality "fixed."
  • by Trillian_1138 (221423) <[slashdot] [at] [fridaythang.com]> on Friday February 09, 2007 @01:35AM (#17944810)

    OK, I understand how being autistic can give people neurological advantages, but deafness? If they're deaf from birth and the brain never developed to understand sound, then I can see wanting to be cautious, but if that setback can be fixed, how is the person not better off for having the capacity of hearing?

    The issue is that there has developed the attitude among (some) deaf people that being deaf and speaking sign have created a deaf community and culture separate (or at least equally valid) as that of the 'hearing community.' More to the point, they view medical treatment for deafness as an imposition and threat to their culture. From Deaf Community [wikipedia.org] at Wikipedia: "A belief commonly shared by Deaf people from around the world is that deafness should not be regarded as an impairment or disability."

    An analogy I've come to appreciate is that of deaf culture to the gay community: One could argue that being gay is a genetic flaw, as it gets in the way of the most efficient possible reproduction rates. However, most gay people (and an ever-growing number of straight people) would say that being gay does not mean they are "flawed." In the movie 'The Family Stones' there is a scene where one character asks a gay man whether he would want the child he is attempting to adopt to be gay, because it must have been incredibly difficult growing up gay in this society. The gay man's mother objects, saying there is something wrong with society, not with her son. (That's from memory, so it may not be exactly right, but it's the basic idea of the scene.) There are people in the deaf community who would argue the same thing, that being deaf is not a disability or disadvantage, and it is only because society makes it difficult to be deaf that there are problems. (I think the scene is also interesting because the man is also deaf, but that's not really important for the analogy...)

    That said, I disagree with the concept of deaf culture and would tend to agree that deafness is a disability. However, I also feel very strongly that being gay is not a disability and that it is society's 'fault' that gay people have problems existing in the world. I've thought a lot about it (the comparison of gay-ness and deaf-ness as genetic 'problems') and have come up with primarily emotional reasons for feeling the way I do, rather than logical ones...

    I'm only aware of the idea of deaf culture because my mom works extensively with the deaf students and is fluent in sign language. Although neither she nor I are deaf (or even have any particular hearing problems) we've talked a lot about this and I feel qualified to comment on it. I must add that this is all my understanding of things and someone who is deaf would probably know better than I.

    If you're still interested in the idea of deaf culture, the movie Sound and Fury [pbs.org] might be interesting, as it's a documentary about a deaf culture (in part) and much of the movie focuses on a family of two (genetically) deaf parents with children who also have genetic hearing problems. A question throughout the movie is whether or not to 'fix' the children with cochlear implants (which can provide partial hearing, depending on the cause of deafness). The documentary ends with the decision to not get the implants in most of the children, but there was recently a followup documentary in which almost all of the children (and some of the adults) have now gotten cochlear implants and are enjoying having partial hearing. The wikipedia article [wikipedia.org] on Sound and Fury has some more info.

    Phew! That was more than I thought I was going to type. Hope it's helpful to someone...

    -Trillian
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 09, 2007 @03:12AM (#17945324)
    I partially agree, my brother is "autistic" and lives a normal life (aside of some small quirk), but I know few parents who's children have it a thousand times worse, I would guess they would jump on anything that would help. The biggest problem is that the word "autistim" is meaningless, it is like put together "brain tumor", "synovus infection", "stoke" and call it all "headache" just because one of the visible symptoms is pain on the head.
  • by Kaboom13 (235759) <kaboom108&bellsouth,net> on Friday February 09, 2007 @04:11AM (#17945532)
    A bus stop is probably not the best place to gather evidence about the kindness of strangers. I don't know about where you live, but here bus stops tend to gather a rather odd collection of characters, to the point that most bus passengers develop a sort of selective hearing/vision where they ignore the outside world as much as possible. The same thing is true in most cities with subways. where people will completely ignore even completely outrageous things happening right next to them. This is easy to test if you don't mind the possibility of ending up on youtube, in the middle of a bus ride or crowded bus station, burst into song and dance. If you get any reaction at all, it will probably be from the "real" crazy people angry at you moving in on their territory. Ignoring the existence of other people when forced into a confined space with a random group of complete strangers seems to be human instinct.
  • Re:Jim Sinclair (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 09, 2007 @04:17AM (#17945560)
    I think to state such a thing as Therefore, when parents say, "I wish my child did not have autism," what they're really saying is, "I wish the autistic child I have did not exist, and I had a different (non-autistic) child instead." shows a very limited understanding of self. Besides that, I think in most cases, when parents say "I wish my child did not have autism," what they really mean is, "Gosh, my child sure does look unhappy, I'm betting from the fact that they struggle just to feed themselves, that they would be FAR happier if they didn't have it." So why does wishing for ones child to not be stricken with an arguably awful disease have to be immediately considered a selfish act? Maybe some parents with autistic children hope for a better life for their kids out of compassion. Just offering alternative view points here.
  • Re:Jim Sinclair (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bri2000 (931484) on Friday February 09, 2007 @08:22AM (#17946620)
    I understand your point. However as someone who's life has been ruined by Asperger's Syndrome I have to say there are other perspectives.

    I was seriously bullied and discriminated against at school (by teachers and pupils) and all through university and subsequent life, I have literally no friends or anyone to talk to outside of immediate family members, no chance of ever being in a loving relationship as the only women prepared to have anything to do with me turn out to be menatally ill - seriously, of the two women who've slept with me one turned out to be a schizophrenic and the other had Munchausen syndrome - and a career which has stalled due not to a lack of ability but rather to my inability to connect with people and the fact everyone at work finds me just so damn weird. As a result of these and other problems connected with my AS I now, at the age of 35, suffer from chronic intractable depression. I was, in fact, formally diagnosed with AS after being referred to a consultant psychiatrist for depression last year.

    I fully acknowledge that if I did not have AS I would not be the same individual that I am. That does not bother me. So far as I'm concerned AS has caused me to have a life that is not really worth living and I would have been quite happy (in so far as that concept has meaning when discussing an emotional reaction to non-existence) for someone else, with a slightly different set of genes to me who would have been better at life and enjoyed it a little more, to have taken my place (my therapist hates this line of argument btw - we have huge rows about whether people who say they are happy with AS really believe what they say or are just fooling themselves in a desperate attempt to bolster their self esteem and playing the "noble, stoic cripple" role that society prefers its handicapped members to adopt). If there was a cure I would jump at it.

    I also have to say that, although it's a moot point (see above), if I did ever find a woman willing to breed with me, having had the life I've had and having gone through what I've gone through I would seek genetic counselling and take whatever steps were available to prevent any child of mine from being born with AS (or any other form of autism). I know that the question of whether a bad existence is better than non-existence is extremely difficult from a theoretical perspective but, so far as I'm concerned, if you bring child into the world who you know will have a hellish existence and you could have prevented it, you've done wrong.

  • by B5_geek (638928) on Friday February 09, 2007 @08:41AM (#17946708)
    I have read a fascinating book called "Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon that deals with this subject matter.

    Amazon clip:

      Corporate life in early 21st-century America is even more ruthless than it was at the turn of the millennium. Lou Arrendale, well compensated for his remarkable pattern-recognition skills, enjoys his job and expects never to lose it. But he has a new boss, a man who thinks Lou and the others in his building are a liability. Lou and his coworkers are autistic. And the new boss is going to fire Lou and all his coworkers--unless they agree to undergo an experimental new procedure to "cure" them.

    The short version: Autistics all have gifts that we just don't recognize, what if they don't want to be 'cured'

  • Hallelujah (Score:3, Insightful)

    by petrus4 (213815) on Friday February 09, 2007 @11:06AM (#17948046) Homepage Journal
    I'm one of presumably the minority of people with autism (I was diagnosed at 16 with NLD [nlda.org] after the usual traumatic experience with the neurotypical education system) who'd love to be cured myself, if such a thing became available. Autism is a genetic aberration and a curse, for the most part, and needs to be seen as such. Being autistic is neither glamorous or enjoyable, and the only people who try and see it as a blessing are those who wish to gain some extra privelege over and above the normal population, as members of yet another minority. The neurotypical population sees us as the proverbial sewer-dwelling mutants for a reason; it's because we genuinely are.

    I've also written numerous times that I believe that the overwhelming predominance of autism in the Linux community is the single main thing holding Linux as an operating system back. Autistics who use Linux (Stallman being primary among them) believe that their philosophical view is morally superior, when I feel that in reality it (particularly the degree of repetitive consistency of the message over time) is simply a result of their neurological disability.

    The "five freedoms" aren't things Linux users care about so strongly because they're people with an inherently more developed moral sense than most people, or because of the inherent moral value of the ideas; they're things that Linux users care about to that degree because autism causes rote, uncontrollable fixations with certain concepts or areas of interest, sometimes on a long term basis. In some kids with Asperger's it's trains or a collection of toilet brushes. In the case of Stallman and the Debian developers, it's a perverted definition of software freedom. The fixation is with an abstract concept rather than physical objects, but that's about the only difference.

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