How's this for awesome news? Penn State scientists recently announced new discoveries that could revolutionize treatments for severe autism.
Gong Chen, professor of biology and lead author of the study, says he saw significant improvements in human nerve cells damaged by the effects of a severe form of autism called Rett Syndrome.
Rett Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder, largely affects young women by impairing their ability to walk, speak, eat, breathe and develop normally.
By studying the nerve cells of patients with Rett Syndrome, Chen and his team were able to isolate a mutation in the MECP2 gene, which is believed to be the source of the problem.
In addition, the researchers were able to identify a missing molecule, KCC2, which plays a crucial role in normal nerve cell function and brain development. Replacing the missing molecule in damaged nerve cells where it is lacking may be the key to curing this devastating syndrome.
As if that weren't enough, Chen and his team also discovered an insulin-like growth factor which may improve the functionality of diseased nerve cells by elevating levels of KCC2. This breakthrough has a far-reaching impact.
As Xin Tang, a graduate student working with Chen, said,
The finding that IGF1 can rescue the impaired KCC2 level in Rett neurons is important not only because it provides an explanation for the action of IGF1, but also because it opens the possibility of finding more small molecules that can act on KCC2 to treat Rett syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders.
With autism affecting one in 68 children, and the rates of diagnoses along the spectrum growing daily, this marks a big win for sufferers worldwide.