Research update – June 2014

UpdatepicA selection of recent news, research, reports and events.

In the news

Autism resolution passed at WHA Research

Autism reports that in an immediate board approval, the World Health Assembly (WHA) – the decision making body of the World Health Organisation (WHO) – passed recently a resolution regarding autism, placed by Bangladesh last year. The assembly urged member states to include the needs of individuals affected by autism spectrum and other developmental disorders in policies and programmes related to child and adolescent health and development and mental health.

Autistic boys exposed to higher levels of hormones in womb, study finds

The Guardian reports that research on children in Denmark has found that boys with autism were more likely to have been exposed to higher levels of hormones in their mother’s wombs than those who developed normally. The findings add to a growing body of evidence that the biological foundations of autism are laid down well before birth and involve factors that go beyond the child’s genetic make-up. The results may help scientists to unravel some of the underlying causes of autism and explain why boys are four to five times more likely to be diagnosed with the condition, which affects around one percent of the population.

Research

Timing is everything: scientists control rapid re-wiring of brain circuits using patterned visual stimulation

In a recent study published in Science, scientists from Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University and the McGill University Health Center show for the first time how the brain rewires and fine-tunes its connections differently depending on the relative timing of sensory stimuli. The researchers have been studying the formation of brain circuitry during development to better understand healthy brain wiring. They also hope such studies will lead to development of more effective treatments for nervous system injuries, as well as therapies for neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.

Twin study set to explore autism, attention deficit overlap

Sfari reports that a new Swedish twin study plans to search for the shared genetic and environmental origins of autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which are often mistaken for each other. The new project aims to assess identical twin pairs using a variety of measures, including behavior and brain imaging. The researchers plan to compare the characteristics of the discordant twin pairs (meaning only one of the two has a disorder) with those of typically developing twin pairs.

Risk of brain injury is genetic

Researchers have identified a link between injury to the developing brain and common variation in genes associated with schizophrenia and the metabolism of fat. Scientists at the University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London and King’s College London studied genetic samples and MRI scans of more than 80 premature infants at the time of discharge from hospital. The study builds on previous research, and suggests that premature babies’ risk of brain injury is influenced by their genes, a study suggests. Researchers add that future studies could look at how changes in these genes may bring about this risk of – or resilience – to brain injury.

Clinical research: Angelman gene variants alter symptoms

Sfari provide a brief summary of a study published on 19 March in Research in Developmental Disabilities, which reports that the nature of the mutation that leads to Angelman syndrome, a disorder characterized by speech impairment and developmental delays, affects the disorder’s presentation.

Brain Methylation Map Published

The Scientist reports on research published on 4 July in Science that shows that epigenetic modification varies greatly over the course of development but is remarkably consistent between individuals and between mice and humans. Researchers at the Salk Institute in San Diego have made an extensive map of several types of methylation in the brains of mice and humans, hoping to understand the role of epigenetic changes in the brain as mental illnesses took hold in humans.

Reports

Sensory issues and autism: an insider’s guide

SEN provides a summary by Paul Isaacs that outlines some of the main sensory difficulties faced by people with autism and how they affect their everyday life.

Events

Towards a Positive Future

A one-day annual national conference for parents of children with special educational needs and the professionals who support them. Central London, Thursday 19th June 2014.

Engage in their future National Conference

An exceptional programme of speakers and workshops will be delivered around the theme of ‘Improving life chances for children experiencing behavioural, emotional and/or social difficulties (BESD)’. Wyboston Lakes, Cambridge, Thursday 3rd and Friday 4th July.