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Spectrum: Autism Research News

Community Newsletter: Organoid drug screens, intervention overreach, self-advocates’ concerns

by  /  10 April 2022
Many mouths talking, overlapping speech bubbles in two shades of blue.
Illustration by Laurène Boglio

It’s a mixed bag of ICYMIs from the autism research Twittersphere this week, ranging from separable cell clusters to research concerns of various kinds.

First we’re highlighting a tweet about neural organoids, which hold promise for high-throughput drug screens. Growing enough of these cell clusters in suspension, however, presents a problem: They start to fuse together. A new preprint on bioRxiv offers a solution, tweeted lead researcher Sergiu Pasca, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University in California.

By adding a cheap polymer to the mix, he and his team kept apart more than 2,400 cortical organoids in culture for screening hundreds of drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as well as agents that cause growth defects.

“This sounds like a very productive way of growing organoids,” tweeted Luise Seeker, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

Game changer!” wrote Meng-meng Fu, Statdman investigator at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland.


The Autism Intervention Meta-Analysis, or Project AIM for short, has had some unexpected fallout, tweeted Micheal Sandbank, assistant professor of special education at the University of Texas at Austin, who led the study. It’s something that “keeps happening that I’ve been hesitant to address, but probably should,” she wrote.

Many people, she says, have tried to paint the study’s original findings as blanket endorsements for or against specific interventions — with some providers going so far as to feature photos of Sandbank on their sites.

But Project AIM, she notes, never set out to provide evidence to support or invalidate any particular intervention — and Sandbank says she is “not interested in carrying the flag for any specific cause (except maybe the cause to get authors to publish their raw means and SDs in every paper!).”


And for this #AutismAcceptanceMonth, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network released a statement on genetic research, which they tweeted about in a six-part thread.

The concerns they raise — about eugenics and privacy issues, for example — echo those of self-advocates who critiqued the Spectrum10K study last year, putting that project on hold.

Giving autistic people control over genetic databases is the key point, tweeted Mary Doherty, founder of Autistic Doctors International and a consultant anesthetist at Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan, Ireland.

That’s it for this week’s Community Newsletter! If you have any suggestions for interesting social posts you saw in the autism research sphere, feel free to send an email to [email protected].

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