Given World Autism Awareness Day on Friday April 2, here's some exciting news about a clinical trial set to start at Bloorview. Louise
U.S. Department of Defense funds autism research at BloorviewBloorview has received an $805,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to conduct a randomized clinical trial to see if Oxytocin – a hormone released during women’s labour and milk let-down – improves social functioning in teens with autism.
The United Nations hopes to raise awareness of the disorder as a global health crisis on World Autism Day April 2.
The Oxytocin grant is one of four Bloorview-funded trials targeting social function, learning, motor skills and global functioning in autism – the only clinical trial program of its kind in Canada.
Animal research and pilot studies in adults with autism suggest Oxytocin plays a role in social memory, trust and attachment.
“Given that people with autism have difficulties in those areas, and we’ve had no success with other medications, it’s time to look at whether Oxytocin has therapeutic potential for improving social deficits in autism,” says Dr. Evdokia Anagnostou (in photo above), the child neurologist who heads up the clinical research program in autism at Bloorview.
The first phase of the three-year study will identify the optimum dose of the hormone. The second will be a randomized control trial of 60 adolescents with autism aged 12 to 18, who will take the hormone in a nose spray in the morning and afternoon for three months. Thirty teens will participate at Bloorview, and 30 teens will take part at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “The Chicago folks have a lot of expertise in measuring Oxytocin in the blood and in doing genetic studies of Oxytocin in autism,” Dr. Anagnostou says. “We have more of the clinical trial research expertise, so it’s a nice partnership.”
Traditionally, research has looked at symptoms that autism shares with other disorders and borrowed medications used to treat those disorders to see if they work in autism. “It’s easy to be sloppy in matching and to gravitate to what is easy to do, what you know is feasible to do, but not really what the relevant question is,” Dr. Anagnostou says.
“We’re looking at the basic science data as it pertains to autism and translating those findings into clinical research. We start with genetics and animal models and control trials to understand what regulates normal social function. Then we study how the system is disturbed to produce abnormal function, and how it can be manipulated to mediate the disturbed part. It’s a completely different approach.”
Dr. Anagnostou is cautiously optimistic about the study. “This won’t cure autism. But if at the end of the process we’ve found a compound that has a direct effect on social function and social skills – and that can make existing social-skills interventions that much more effective – the impact will be huge.”
Dr. Anagnostou is author of a small pilot study in press that shows Oxytocin improved social cognition and repetitive behaviours in adults with autism.