Autism research at Harvard

If you missed Kent Heckenlively's piece "The Harvard Gang" at the Age of Autism site, it's worth reading. Here's a snippet, but you can read the rest by following the link. It's interesting stuff about what Harvard researchers are finding in the autism world.

By Kent Heckenlively, Esq.

You can always tell a Harvard guy,” my dad would say, beginning one of the innumerable jokes he told during my youth.

“How?” my brother and I would respond, knowing we were being set up.

“Because he has to tell you he went to Harvard within the first five minutes you meet him,” came the answer.

If earlier generations of the crimson and black were known for trumpeting their credentials, I have to admit that the current crop now impresses me with their research into solving some of the mysteries of autism.

Dr. Martha Herbert of Harvard Medical School first caught my attention back in 2005 with her article, “Large Brains in Autism: The Challenge of Pervasive Abnormality.” Dr. Herbert was investigating the most replicated finding in autism neuroanatomy, namely that autistics seem to have unusually large brains. In her review of autism research, she noted that the picture which was emerging suggested inflammation as a reason for the large brains observed in autistic children.

Dr Herbert wrote, “Although there is a great deal of heterogeneity to the medical complaints that frequently accompany autism, there are common threads that may indicate common or related molecular and cellular mechanisms between body and brain. For instance, the pathophysiologies of inflammation and oxidative stress, and excitotoxicity are greatly linked, and it appears these types of mechanisms are implicated in the brain as well as some of the sensory and sleep regulation, epilepsy, immune, and gastro-intestinal complaints commonly seen in autism.”

To translate the medical-speak, inflammation is something we know from infections or injuries, oxidative stress is another expression for the signs of stress on the body from chemicals, and excitotoxicity is another word for how nerve cells responds to toxins.

Read the rest at Age of Autism.


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