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Spectrum: Autism Research News

Spotted A roundup of autism papers and media mentions you may have missed.

CRISPR’s climb; spotlight on sexism; aging with autism

by  /  13 November 2015

November 9th

CRISPR’s climb

Few scientific discoveries have reaped more kudos than CRISPR — the gene-editing tool that has revolutionized biological research. But CRISPR has also attracted its share of controversy. It has sparked a debate about the ethics of genome editing, not to mention a patent war.

A story in the latest issue of The New Yorker looks at CRISPR’s journey so far, and its promising yet unpredictable future. It also provides a candid commentary on the war over CRISPR’s ownership.

“No single person discovers things anymore,” George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, who was among the first to use CRISPR on human cells, told the magazine. “The whole patent battle is silly. There has been much research. And if anybody should be making a fuss about this I should be making a fuss. But I am not doing that, because I don’t think it matters. They are all nice people. They are all doing important work. It’s a tempest in a teapot.”

The New Yorker / 16 Nov 2015
Perilous profits

There has been a lot of discussion about pharmaceutical companies putting profits before the safety of those who use their products. This past summer, Spectrum ran a story about Janssen Pharmaceuticals downplaying the risks of risperidone, a billion-dollar drug used to treat aggression in children with autism.

An op-ed by Nicholas Kristof published last week in The New York Times suggests that the problem is getting worse. He reports that the prescription rate for antipsychotics has grown seven-fold since the 1990s, and that drug companies are using loopholes to skirt regulations that were put in place to protect the public.

“The industry is getting even greedier,” Kristof writes, explaining that companies are finding creative ways to expand the market for their drugs. “You may think of free speech as a citizen’s right to dissent; pharmaceutical executives see it as a tool to market drugs for unapproved uses.”

The New York Times / 05 Nov 2015
Spotlight on sexism

A story in this week’s Nature looks at the intersection of science, sexism and social media. It revisits a peer reviewer’s suggestion that a female scientist work with “one or two male biologists” to keep her interpretations in check. The scientist tweeted the comment and sparked a social media firestorm, not to mention a much-deserved apology.

Sexism in science is not a new problem. But thanks to Twitter and other social media networks, it’s getting more attention.

For a long time, women “have been rolling their eyes and going home and saying, ‘What a buffoon. I’m so sick of this crap,’” Hope Jahren, professor of geobiology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, told Nature. Nowadays, however, “Twitter is that thought under your breath.”

Aging with autism

Autism is still largely considered a childhood condition. But children grow into adults, and adults with autism have fears about the future.

A blog published Wednesday in The Guardian highlights some of these fears.

“Many of us on the spectrum replace social relationships with intense areas of special interest,” writes Susan Dunne, an author with Asperger syndrome. “What, I wonder, will happen when the brain cells just can’t do quantum physics any more? Where will the model train collection acquired over 70 years fit in the constrained space of social housing or care homes? Will those of us who have lived a cocooned existence suddenly be expected to turn into social butterflies in a reminiscence group?”

Dunne hopes that by the time she needs age-related care, people will understand the specific needs of older adults on the spectrum. But “given the present lack of research, knowledge and training in ageing and autism, I’m not optimistic that any of this will have happened by then,” she writes.

Taking care

A touching story in Wednesday’s New York Times highlights the tender bond between a professional caregiver-turned-guardian and a teenage boy with autism.

Marco Muñoz began caring for Jose Hernandez, a 17-year-old boy with severe autism, as a job. Eventually, he took Jose into his home when Jose’s mother could no longer cope.

For the past five years, 66-year-old Muñoz has slept in the living room of his own one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx, giving Jose his bed. The pair lives off of $1,570 per month in Social Security benefits, $725 in Supplemental Security Income and $190 in food stamps.

“I wasn’t sure I wanted to take care of him, but once I had him here, I wanted to go all the way,” Muñoz told The Times, noting that he plans to adopt Jose when he turns 18. “My hope is that I will still be healthy enough to take care of him for a while.”