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Startup Tests Drugs Aimed at Autism 171

An anonymous reader sends in this link from Technology Review about a startup company testing drugs that may help those with autism-spectrum disorders — even adults. "Seaside Therapeutics, a startup based in Cambridge, MA, is testing two compounds for the treatment of fragile X syndrome, a rare, inherited form of intellectual disability linked to autism. The treatments have emerged from molecular studies of animal models that mirror the genetic mutations seen in humans. Researchers hope that the drugs, which are designed to correct abnormalities at the connections between neurons, will ultimately prove effective in other forms of autism spectrum disorders. ... The company is funded almost entirely by an undisclosed family investment of $60 million, with $6 million from the National Institutes of Health. [A spokesman] says that Seaside has enough funding to take its compounds through clinical testing and approval."
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Startup Tests Drugs Aimed at Autism

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  • What if (Score:1, Insightful)

    by MrMista_B ( 891430 ) on Monday January 11, 2010 @06:03AM (#30721164)

    What if it's the people who don't have Autism who are sick? What if it's 'normal' that's wrong?

  • Re:Do I have it (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 11, 2010 @06:06AM (#30721172)
    Or would he post but never lurk?
  • Re:What if (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gerafix ( 1028986 ) on Monday January 11, 2010 @06:09AM (#30721178)
    If that were the case then natural selection would have taken its course long ago and we'd all be autistic. But it's an amusing question to philosophize nonetheless.
  • Re:What if (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 11, 2010 @06:41AM (#30721288)

    The issue is one of impairment of functioning. This, of course, means that many self-proclaimed 'Aspies' are not what this drug targets.

    A child that is not capable of communicating with its parents is autistic. A child that leads his parents by the hand to something instead of pointing to what he wants is autistic. Even dogs are capable of shared attention (pointing at an object is a concrete example) while autistic children are not. Shared attention is of course necessary for language communication as verbally expressing ideas is based on shared attention of ideas and concepts - and these kids can't even point to a toy or cookie.

    An 8 year old that learns to program in C++ at the age of 8 is exceptionally bright, not autistic. At this same age an autistic kid will be spinning the wheels on a car (as opposed to playing with it) or stacking blocks for hours on end. They may play in the same vicinity as other children, but almost never with them. You see these same tendencies in normal children up to a certain age - an 18 month old will play in the proximity of other children but not with them. A 3 year old plays with other children instead of simply being in the same vicinity. Autistic children never reach this stage.

    Autistic adults social and communication issues are simply an extension of these milestones that were reached significantly (or never) later than other people because of neurological problems. A geeky guy that enjoys chatting on Ventrillio while raiding in World of Warcraft for hours on end is very likely not autistic given how social using voice chat and raiding is. An autistic adult isn't very likely to frequently visit comic book or Star Wars conventions either. Just because these activities are stereotyped for males with social phobias or other social issues doesn't mean that they're indicative of autism.

    True autism is a very real and very impairing condition, not a matter of having odd interests and being a bit socially awkward.

  • by Gerafix ( 1028986 ) on Monday January 11, 2010 @07:26AM (#30721484)
    Because people haven't stopped reproducing, even if they have certain latent or expressed genetic variations. I suppose I should have said that we would be mostly autistic, not all. It appears you're begging the question as to whether or not it is valuable. Whether autistic traits are increasing or not is debatable, especially as to the cause - genetically valuable or simply better clinically recognized? Keep in mind Homo sapien DNA is not perfect, it is prone to variation and mutation, even variations and mutations which are harmful in one area and beneficial in another. Although I am sure you're aware of that already.
  • Re:What if (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rve ( 4436 ) on Monday January 11, 2010 @07:36AM (#30721544)

    As for Autism, it's not ideal and can cause a lot of problems for people but it can also bring some big pluses too. Do we really all want to be clones? looking the way celeb culture says we should and having perfect personalities? Hell no! Rejoice in the difference.

    Enlighten me, please explain what the pluses are of this severe disability.

    Would you say the same about rheumatism, heart failure, emphysema, Parkinson or any other disability? I think it's probably best to let patients or their caregivers decide whether their condition is worth treating.

  • Re:Side effects? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JasterBobaMereel ( 1102861 ) on Monday January 11, 2010 @07:37AM (#30721550)

    This is a drug that may alleviate some of the symptoms of fragile X syndrome, many of these symptoms are not reversible, and one of them can be some forms of Autism

    This is not a "Cure for Autism", it is a possible, partial cure for a genetic disorder that has as one of it's effects in some patients some forms of Autism

    Autism is not has no one cause, and has no one cure ....

  • by jonaskoelker ( 922170 ) <jonaskoelker&yahoo,com> on Monday January 11, 2010 @08:03AM (#30721658)

    Yeah, he probably wouldn't be able to do such useful things as remembering the whole phone book or recalling which baseball player did what in each year.

    Or design and implement bittorrent, and run a company around it; see []

    Or win the Nobel Prize in economics; see [] and []

    (Okay, that's Asperger's Syndrome; but I think that's within the scope of this discussion)

    He might be able to button his own shirt or wipe his own ass, though.

    Or it might be that he is better able to communicate with other people; he might have an easier time stumbling unto the idea that if he asks someone a question and silence is the answer, it might be because of an internal struggle between not wanting to lie and not wanting to admit the truth. And that he can gain something by not putting people in that situation again.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 11, 2010 @08:13AM (#30721694)

    Why is there a persistent trail of autistic achievers from Archimedes ...

    Do you seriously think that he could be diagnosed over 2,000 years after the fact? Anyone you see making historical claims of any given diagnosis is pushing an agenda.

    Why have the traits not only persisted but seem to be increasingly prevalent? If the multiple reports showing a statistical increase in autistic traits have any merit at all, that would seem to suggest that indeed there is an INCREASING value or merit to at least some of the traits, if not the whole.

    You are aware that autism is based on an arbitrary criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association or World Health Organization, depending on which country you live in. Diagnostic criteria change regularly and diagnosis are solely based on the subjective opinion of the practitioner. Also note that 10 years ago no one was talking about Asperger's, which suggests that this disorder is a fad.

    Standards for diagnosis have changed, Asperger's has come into fashion with geeks and nerds, and an increase in the number of diagnosis does not mean that what ever causes autism is becoming more common. Additionally, you seem to be mistaken on how natural selection and evolution occur. First, evolution does not occur within 10, 50, or even 100 years. Second, natural selection relies on genetic fitness, which includes being the most fit to reproduce. If you have ever been around a developmentally delayed adult (autism is a specific type of developmental disorder) you can quickly estimate how many women would have sex with them. This doesn't even factor in their ability to earn a suitable living or properly care for their children. By the way, inappropriate or severely impaired self-care skills is one of the diagnostic criteria of autism.

    Natural selection may in fact have been working slowly to weed out the (currently) neurotypical.

    No it isn't.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 11, 2010 @10:02AM (#30722458)

    I'm starting to think you two have a personal stake in this article (whether you know it or not)...

  • Re:Do I have it (Score:3, Insightful)

    by uglyduckling ( 103926 ) on Monday January 11, 2010 @10:45AM (#30723002) Homepage

    I disagree that "the concept of a cure is nonsensical". Your reversal is a bit like saying 'imagine someone can play guitar, and you had to teach them to be incapable of playing it...' - people who can play guitar can't un-learn it, but people who can't play guitar are capable of learning to play it to a greater or lesser degree. Someone with a severe physical disability may never be able to play guitar, depending on that disability.

    In one sense I do understand what you mean, that the disorder is an intrinsic part of a person's makeup and not just a bolted-on impairment. However, ASD is a spectrum, and people sit in different places on that spectrum. For some, their ASD would make certain types of social interaction difficult, but not impossible, to process and understand - with patience, it is possible to extend the understanding and mastery of situations that would previously have been too distressing or just incomprehensible. It is therefore possible to 'cure' certain ASDs to the extent that a person is able to function 'normally' (whatever that means) in society and have a better quality of life than they would otherwise have had.

    Your sentence "As a rule of thumb, if you can put together a fully formed sentence, you almost certainly don't have meaningful levels of ASD" indicates to me that you have a very little - or a very distorted - understanding of ASD (or you have constructed that sentence poorly and didn't really mean it). Lots of people are able to speak very well and enjoy conversation yet have significant ASD that affects every part of their life.

  • by Abcd1234 ( 188840 ) on Monday January 11, 2010 @10:52AM (#30723086) Homepage

    (Okay, that's Asperger's Syndrome; but I think that's within the scope of this discussion)

    Uh, no, it's probably not.

    When people talk about searching for cures for autism, they aren't typically talking about Asperger's. They mean actual, severe autism. You know, the kind where the individual is virtually non-functional.

    As an aside, I don't suppose you're a self-styled Asperger's sufferer, are you? Because around here, the slashbots seem to think it's kinda cool to blame all their social problems on Asperger's (probably because the follow-up assumption is that, along with having an excuse for being socially awkward, they can also be comforted by the fact that they must obviously be brilliant, too). Hell, it's the new ADD among the Slashdot crowd, as far as I'm concerned.

  • Re:What if (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ginger Unicorn ( 952287 ) on Monday January 11, 2010 @01:46PM (#30725428)
    Someone else would have made the same discoveries. There are plenty of people that are just as smart.

The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the `social sciences' is: some do, some don't. -- Ernest Rutherford