New Study Will Test Theory That Enzyme Contributes to Autism

by Susan Brady on November 9th, 2010


The debate rages on both the causes and “cures” for autism. There is the mercury-vaccination contingent, the gluten-free, casein-free diet supporters, those that believe genetics play a role, and the list goes on. There may very well be multiple etiologies for this developmental disorder, and research continues throughout the world to determine, definitively and finally, what that is.

One of the newest clinical trials is just beginning across the country, at fifteen institutions, including the University of California at San Francisco. Funded by Curemark, a New York-based drug company, this Phase III clinical trial for CM-AT autism treatment, has been granted fast track status by the FDA. Researchers will be testing whether certain children with autism can benefit from regular doses of an enzyme to help them digest proteins, which may in turn improve their brain function and ease some symptoms of autism.

The trial is not without its naysayers. There is very little research to support the premise that a missing enzyme is a factor in the cause of autism. There are those studies which have shown that a small subset of children diagnosed with autism have enzyme deficiencies, but there is debate as to whether it is a causation or a symptom of the disorder. But with a new case of autism being diagnosed every 20 minutes in America, it is imperative that research such as this be conducted. Sometimes, with a bit of persistence and creative thinking, you do find that needle in a haystack.

The trial will involve 170 children, ages three to eight, over a 90-day period. Half of the participants will be a control group and receive a placebo, while the other half will receive three enzyme treatments per day (a tasteless powder sprinkled over food). At the end of the 90 days, parents can remove their children entirely from the project or choose to continue for one year on the enzyme regimen.

"The treatment is enormously simple, but finding it out wasn't simple at all," said Joan Fallon, chief executive of Curemark. "Is it theoretical? Yes. But we hope the trials will give some benefit to a subgroup of children. And we hope our trials will make other researchers look at the physiology of the disorder."

Curemark has identified a series of biomarkers that determine which children with autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) may have digestive deficiencies underlying or as a major component of their disease.  Research by Dr. Fallon showed enzyme deficiencies in children with autism, resulting in an inability to digest protein.  The inability to digest protein affects the production of amino acids, the building blocks of chemicals essential for brain function.

Autism is a neurological and biological disorder which typically affects children ages 18 months to 5 years of age. It knows no racial, ethnic or social boundaries. A child’s chances of having autism are not determined by their family’s lifestyle, education or income.

------------------------- Author Information: Susan Brady Editor-in-Chief, HealthNews.com Susan Brady, the editor of The World Is a Kitchen, is a woman with a passion for food. When not living the life of a typical suburban soccer mom, she spends long hours in the kitchen testing recipes from around the world, and travels to faraway places to learn new cuisines. You can reach Susan by e-mail.


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