Monday, May 30, 2005

Renting motor homes: special needs vacations.


Oddly, it never occurred to me that one could rent these things. Rentals, timeshares and other variants of shared ownership make far more sense than keeping one of these beast unused for 98% of the year.

For some children with special needs, a motor home trip may work better than a van or plane trip.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Autism and infectious diseases

Entrez PubMed: autism and etiology

The recent press about mass profile of unusual blood chemistries statistically correlated with autism led me to review the medical literature on autism etiology. I did my best to exclude MMR immunizations; that seems relatively unlikely as a contributing factor. I was interested in mention of infectious agents.

I didn't come up with very much. The literature is a confusing stew of hypotheses, with none seeming to lead. Part of the problem, of course, is that the wide range of entities we call "autism" may represent several different conditions. Even the most "classic" autism may represent many processes with similar outcomes. It's pretty hard to sort out such an ill-defined target.

If there's any fashionable correlation with infection it works on the assumption that some autism subsets are caused by an autoimmune reaction to a common virus or insult that happens to damage brain tissue. There's also a tendency to look for common causes of both autism and celiac disease; these conditions have some superficial similarities.

If autism has an autoimmune and infectious component, and if the frequency is rising in wealthy nations, they one would wonder if it was a "hygiene disease". These are diseases thought to arise from the absence of early infections; chickenpox, for example, is a much more dangerous disease in middle-age than in childhood.

All very speculative. Progress will probably come from studying well defined familial autism syndromes that may be more homogenous.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Autism and the Corbett blood chemistry study

Strong evidence of alterations in blood samples of children with autism

This was, to me, a novel approach. NPR had better coverage than this news article; SurroMed was able to measure thousands of paremeters and compare them to a control group. A fairly large number seemed statistically different. The theory is this can work like digital 'fingerprinting' or 'dna matching'; without regard to mechanism of action it may be possible to define an "autism profile" of lab results. It's a very statistical approach to screening -- similar to factor or regression analysis; the correlated findings may be predictive but not "causal". Fascinating. I'd read predictions of this particular approach, but this is the first study where I've seen it at work.

The next step will be to try to identify a practical 'profile subset' and then test it in children to see if it's predictive, using blood samples from a group other than the group used in this study. That work has probably been done and may be published shortly.
Amaral along with pediatric neuropsychologist Blythe Corbett and other M.I.N.D. Institute colleagues took blood samples from 70 children with autism who were between 4 and 6 years old and from 35 children of the same age who didn't have the disorder. The samples were then analyzed by a biotech company, SurroMed, LLC, Menlo Park, Calif., which has developed technology that can identify differences in the number and types of immune cells, proteins, peptides and metabolites in small amounts of blood.

The study has generated an enormous amount of data and M.I.N.D. Institute researchers say it will take months before all of the information has been fully evaluated. But initial findings clearly demonstrate differences in the immune system, as well as proteins and other metabolites in children with autism:

-- The antibody producing B cells are increased by 20 percent in the autism group

-- Natural killer cells are increased by 40 percent

-- More than 100 proteins demonstrated significant differential expression between the autism and typically developing groups

-- Other small molecules (metabolites) also show many differences