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African Sleeping sickness drug offers hope to Children with Autism

Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine say a 100-year-old drug called suramin, originally developed to treat African sleeping sickness, was safely administered to children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Writing in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, first author Robert K. Naviaux, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, pediatrics and pathology at UC San Diego School of Medicine and colleagues describe a novel double-blind, placebo-controlled safety study involving 10 boys, ages 5 to 14 years, all diagnosed with ASD.
Five of the 10 boys received a single, intravenous infusion of suramin, a drug originally developed in 1916 to treat trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) and river blindness, both caused by parasites. The other five boys received a placebo. Participating families also reported benefits among the children who received suramin.

“We saw improvements in our son after suramin that we have never seen before,” said the parent of a 14-year-old who had not spoken a complete sentence in 12 years. “Within an hour after the infusion, he started to make more eye contact with the doctor and nurses in the room. There was a new calmness at times, but also more emotion at other times. He started to show an interest in playing hide-and-seek with his 16-year-old brother. He started practicing making new sounds around the house. He started seeking out his dad more.
“We have tried every new treatment out there for over 10 years. Nothing has come close to all the changes in language and social interaction and new interests that we saw after suramin. We saw our son advance almost three years in development in just six weeks.” Read more at Science daily


What you should know about Autism


What is Autism?

Commonly called autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is probably due to inherited abnormalities in brain development. Although autism is a genetic disorder, scientists are yet to locate a specific gene or chromosome. The abnormal brain changes occur even before a child is born. Generally, boys are 4-5 times more likely to have autism than girls.

How common is autism?

In the past, persons with ASD were regarded as being mentally retarded and mild cases were missed. But this is no longer so. With increased awareness and better ways of identifying the condition, the prevalence appears to be on the rise. According to CDC, it is now as high as 1 per 68 suggesting it is 10 times more common today than two decades ago.

How do I know if my child has autism?

No laboratory tests can be used to confirm autism. In order to make a diagnosis, doctors look for: Difficulties in social interaction eg avoidance of eye contact,

Communication problems such as inappropriate use of pronouns

Restricted or repetitive behaviours

No single sign can be used to make a diagnosis.

Generally, when a child fails to show interest in others, use some words spontaneously or engage in imaginary play by 2nd year of life, it may be necessary to have him or her screened for autism.

Some studies also suggest that rapid increase head size within the first year of birth may be a warning sign too.

Is it linked to vaccines?

Despite several claims, including a small study associating autism with measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, the link between autism and vaccines have not been established. The study published by Dr Andrew Wakefield was later retracted and declared as fraudulent. Following public outcry on the possibility of  vaccines containing mercury based preservative, thimerosal resulting in autism, vaccine manufacturers removed thimerosal from most vaccines in 2001.

How is it treated?

There is no known ‘cure’. Many treatment centres offer early intervention services aimed at supporting the child and his caregivers. Trained therapists help autistic persons overcome challenges in communication, speech and behaviours.

Clearly, the response to suramin, the sleeping sickness drugs is an exciting development that offers renewed hope to millions of  persons with ASD worldwide.


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