Skip to main content

Spectrum: Autism Research News

CRISPR in the clinic; autism app; women only

by  /  18 November 2016

November 14th

CRISPR in the clinic

CRISPR, the hot new gene-editing technique, has had its debut in the clinic, Nature reported on Tuesday.

The CRISPR-CAS9 system couples an enzyme that cuts DNA with an RNA ‘guide’ that directs the enzyme to a specific spot in the genome. It allows scientists to tweak the genome with precision, speed and ease.

As part of a clinical trial, researchers in Chengdu, China, used CRISPR to modify immune cells from a man with lung cancer. It disabled a gene that inhibits the immune response. The scientists first allowed the altered cells to multiply in the lab, and then injected them into the man. The researchers hope the cells will destroy the cancer.

“The technology to be able to do this is incredible,” Naiyer Rizvi, director of immunotherapeutics at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, told Nature. He questioned whether the strategy would be feasible on a large scale, however

Nine other people are slated to receive the same CRISPR treatment as part of the trial.

Autism app

A college student at the State University of New York at Buffalo has developed a mobile app that may help detect signs of autism in children.

The app, which is still a prototype, tracks the eye movements of children as they look at images of others interacting. Studies have shown that people with autism tend to display abnormal gaze patterns when looking at people and faces.

A pilot study of 32 children between 2 and 10 years old, half of whom have an autism diagnosis, suggests that the app is promising. It seems to accurately distinguish children with autism from those without the condition. Kun Woo Cho, the app’s developer, presented the results at the IEEE Wireless Health conference last month.

“The beauty of the mobile app is that it can be used by parents at home to assess the risk of whether a child may have ASD,” Wenyao Xu, Cho’s research advisor and assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the university, said in a press release.

To know whether the app is useful, the researchers need to test it in large numbers of children. They are now seeking to enroll an additional 300 to 400 children in a follow-up study.

State University of New York at Buffalo / 16 Nov 2016
Trans spectrum

Transgender people on the autism spectrum may face an “uphill struggle” when transitioning between genders, London-based writer Bryony White reports in The Atlantic this week.

Skeptical doctors may dismiss their gender dysphoria or identity as merely a feature of their autism, White writes.

Researchers are exploring the overlap between autism and gender dysphoria. Roughly 20 percent of children treated at gender clinics display autism traits, and 8 to 10 percent of them qualify for an autism diagnosis.

There are many obstacles to transitioning — in which transgender people change how they present themselves to match their gender identity — and autism may worsen the situation, White writes. “Some health-care professionals are now telling trans individuals on the autism spectrum that the need to transition is a result of their autism — a classic misreading of causation versus correlation.”

The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network and several other groups are working to raise awareness about the needs of transgender people with autism.

The Atlantic / 15 Nov 2016
Trump anxiety

Psychologists who treat children with autism are confronting a new challenge: Donald Trump.

New York magazine asked three psychologists at a developmental disabilities clinic in Baltimore about their clients’ election concerns.

Many parents worry their children will parrot some of Trump’s offensive language or behavior. The children have their own fears: Discussions of deportation have prompted them to wonder if they’ll also be kicked out of the country, Cari Romm, associate editor at New York, reports.

Nancy Grace, the clinic’s director, says that she and her staff try to steer children’s thoughts toward what they can control and can see happening — such as the actions Trump actually takes — and away from abstract fears about things that may or may not happen.

“That might be a thing we would do to help a child not become overwhelmed by their fears, and rather become detectives about what is actually happening,” Grace told New York.

Women only

In 2017 and 2018, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences will be electing only women, Science reported Tuesday.

The academy aims to balance its ranks: Of its 556 current members, 87 percent are men. Skewed gender ratios are common among similar institutions. According to a report published in 2015,  women represent just 12 percent of the members of 69 national science academies.

“If you want to move women forward, you have to provide the extra space,” Frances Henry, emeritus professor at York University in Toronto, Canada, told Science. “Otherwise, we’re going to sit here for another two generations.”

The Dutch academy plans to add 16 new female members in the next two years.

Job news

Making a career move? Send your news to [email protected].