Scientists show way to edit genome of disease carrying mosquitoes

Scientists at UC Berkeley and UC Riverside have demonstrated a way to edit the genome of disease carrying mosquitoes that brings us closer to suppressing them on a continental scale.

The study used CRISPR/Cas9 geneediting technology to insert and spread genes designed to suppress wild insects, while at the same time avoiding the resistance to these efforts that evolution would typically favor. The proofofconcept study was demonstrated in fruit flies; but the researchers believe this technology could be used in mosquitoes to help fight malaria and other mosquitoborne diseases in the next decade, pending public and regulatory approval.

“What we showed is that, if you disrupt a gene required for fertility in female mosquitoes at multiple sites all at once, it becomes much harder for the population to evolve around that disruption. As a result, you can suppress a much larger population. It’s much the same as combination drug therapy; but for CRISPRbased gene drive,” said John Marshall, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.
The article was published recently in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, UC MEXUS and the Parker Foundation.

The technology at the heart of the study is called a gene drive system, which manipulates how genetic traits are inherited from parent to offspring. Gene drives are used to bias genetic inheritance in favor of rapidly spreading, selfdestructive genes, and could be an environmentally friendly and cost effective way to suppress populations of diseasespreading insects. The rise of CRISPR/Cas9 geneediting technology (developed at UC Berkeley) has recently revolutionized gene drive systems because it offers a rapid, efficient and reliable way to make precise, targeted changes to the genome.

The new study based its calculations on a gene drive that past studies found could result in up to 99 percent of offspring inheriting the inserted gene. Yet the few offspring that don’t inherit the gene present a big problem for this technology. A fraction of these offspring are immune to the gene drive, so any attempt to eliminate a mosquito species in this manner would result in a rapid rebound of those that are gene drive immune. The impact of this resistance on the ability of gene drive to spread and suppress populations had previously been discussed; but had not been thoroughly evaluated.

Through mathematical modeling, the new study found this resistance would have a major impact on attempts to eliminate a mosquito species on a continent wide scale. To address this issue, the research team devised a technique that they determined could potentially suppress mosquito species continent wide.

The new technique, called multiplexing, involves using one of the components of the CRISPR system, a guide RNA, to target multiple locations in a gene at once. Computer modeling by the research team suggests that the size of the population that could be suppressed increases exponentially with the number of these guide RNAs utilized. It also shows that with four or five multiplexed guide RNAs, a mosquito species could potentially be suppressed on a continental scale.

“Knowing that we can potentially overcome the issues of resistance through careful engineering and multiplexing is huge,” said cocorresponding author Omar Akbari, an assistant professor of entomology at UC Riverside.
The researchers demonstrated the technology in fruit flies, an organism commonly used as a model in labs. Now they are working to adapt this technology to the mosquito species that transmit malaria, dengue and Zika.”

“The potential of multiplexing is vast. With one guide RNA, we could suppress a room of mosquitoes. With four, we could potentially suppress a continent and the diseases they transmit. But nature has a knack for finding a way around hurdles, so assessing that potential will require a lot more work,” Marshall said.

Source: http://news.berkeley.edu/2017/06/26/newgeneeditingtechniquecouldd
riveoutmosquitobornedisease/

 

IU study may explain how Wolbachia bacterium prevents mosquitoes from transmitting deadly diseases

A new study from Indiana University may explain how a bacterium called Wolbachia prevents mosquitoes from transmitting deadly diseases such as dengue fever, West Nile virus and Zika.

Published today in the journal PLOS Pathogens, the study is one of the first to identify a specific biological mechanism that prevents mosquitoes infected with this bacterium from transmitting diseases to humans. It could also potentially open a path toward methods to block disease transmission without Wolbachia, an organism whose longterm
effect on the environment is unknown.

“There’s a real argument that some parts of the world are so strongly affected by these diseases that we need to try everything we can right away,” said Irene Garcia Newton, assistant professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology, who led the study. “But you’ve also got to remember that we’re releasing insects into the wild that could potentially spread all over the planet very quickly, so it’s important to move cautiously.”

The use of Wolbachia infected mosquitoes to curtail the spread of human diseases a method called “pathogen blocking” has already been implemented in some parts of the world. This includes the recent release of these mosquitoes in Florida to block the spread of Zika.

The spread of other insect borne diseases is also expected to rise significantly in North America over the next several decades due to environmental change, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other viruses whose transmission is blocked in Wolbachia infected mosquitoes include chikungunya, yellow fever and West Nile.

To explore the biological mechanisms behind pathogen blocking, Newton and colleagues designed a model system consisting of Wolbachia infected fruit flies and the Sindbis virus, which is easier and safer to manipulate in the lab than infectious agents such as the Zika or West Nile viruses.

“We’ve got a lot of genetic tools for Sindbis virus and fruit flies,” said Richard Hardy, professor in the IU Bloomington Department of Biology, who is a coauthor on the study. “This means we’re able to label different parts of the virus genome and track replication of its RNA inside the host insect.”

Based upon a comparison of Wolbachia infected versus uninfected fruit flies, the scientists found that flies with the bacterium produced significantly higher levels of Mt2, a gene that encodes a type of enzyme known as a methyltransferase.

They then used genetic tools to create two types of fruit flies: one that lackedthis enzyme and another that produced unusually high levels of it.

The flies without the enzyme lost their ability to “block” the transmission of the Sindbis virus after infection with Wolbachia. The flies that produced high levels of the enzyme were resistant to the Sindbis virus even
if they weren’t infected with Wolbachia.

“The fact that flies with high expression levels of this enzyme were protected against virus infection despite the absence of Wolbachia is very significant,” said Tamanash Bhattacharya, an IU Ph.D. student who is first author on the study. “These results suggest that the methyltransferase Mt2 alone is sufficient to create a virus protection effect.”

Moreover, this protective effect likely applies to the transmission of other deadlier viruses, not only the Sindbis virus. The lack of genetic similarities between viruses blocked by Wolbachia suggests that the bacterium blocks viruses through effects on the host.

There are a number of reasons scientists are interested in pursuing methods of pathogenblocking without Wolbachia, Newton added. The widespread release of Wolbachia infected mosquitoes could potentially trigger the rise of viruses resistant to the bacteria, for example.

There is also a lack of large scale epidemiological studies to scientifically determine whether pathogen blocking actually prevents outbreaks.

“Right now, we know only that mosquitoes infected by Wolbachia don’t transmit diseases but we don’t really know how,” Newton said. “If we don’t understand the biological mechanisms behind pathogen blocking, we can’t really know what will happen over the long term when we release these mosquitoes.”

Source: https://news.iu.edu/stories/2017/06/iub/releases/15pathogenblockingstudy.html

Fasting during Ramadan and its Health Effects

At the sight of the crescent moon, over one billion Muslims across the globe will declare the beginning of the Holy Month of Ramadan. Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam and involves followers to abstain from food and drink for up to 18 hours every day, for 30 days.

It isn’t the easiest thing to do. One day you are feasting away at your breakfast, lunch and dinner, and on the next, you have to prepare your mind and body to give that all up for a month. Faith aside, does fasting pose any health benefits?

Of course, for Muslims it is not the time of the year to look forward to losing a few pounds. With the spiritual aspect of Ramadan in their conscience they also gain physical benefits. According to a consultant from Oxford and the NHS, they are as follows:

Healthier diet choices – During Ramadan, three meals a day is replaced by 2 meals a day; one meal before sunrise and another after sunset. Apart from the usual dehydration and decrease in concentration, the body now undergoes a gentle transition from using the fat stored in our bodies to burn energy as opposed to the usual glucose. This helps cholesterol levels and blood pressure to decrease giving better control of blood pressure especially for diabetic people (but only with preparation and medical advice from their GPs). But it is still recommended to have meals with all the five major food groups included and to avoid oily, fried and overly sweet foods. An article published by the Harvard School of Public Health states that people who consume lots of oily, greasy fried foods are at a higher risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It also states that fried foods away from home poses a greater risk. It is very common during Ramadan for many restaurants to organize ifthars (breaking fast) and most of them provide oily fried foods and therefore should be avoided as much as possible. Caffeinated drinks also should be avoided as they are diuretic and can cause rapid water loss.

Rise in levels of endorphins – A week or two into Ramadan, your body is now acclimatizing to the new eating and drinking patterns. This occurs when blood endorphin levels rise and makes fasters more alert and gives them better mental health.

Reducing overindulgence – At ifthar time, fasters break their fast with a date (or three dates like the Prophet Muhammed used to do) and lots of water. Dates are very sweet and provide an energy boost after not having any food for almost the entire day. It is recommended to consume lots of water to rehydrate the body during Ramadan.

A common misconception of Ramadan is that it is compulsory when it is not. Fasting is excused in Islam for specific groups of people. Pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, elders and critically ill persons are a few examples as they require a constant energy supply throughout the day to sustain themselves.

Most health experts rave about the positive health benefits of fasting only during the Ramadan period of 30 days. What effect does long-term fasting after Ramadan have on our bodies? Unfortunately, there aren’t many studies that have been done on the effects of long-term fasting but the Sydney Morning Herald focuses on the effects long-term fasting has on diabetic patients. Diabetic Muslims who fast can help them control their blood pressure to some extent but without preparation and medical advice from their GPs they are putting themselves at the risk of getting hyperglycemia, hypoglycemia and blood clots. Apart from the negative effects of consuming oily foods, overeating during fasting is common due to the long hours without food or drink which also poses a great risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.

Overall, it is safe to say Ramadan not only rejuvenates the faith of Muslims and their spiritual relationship with God, but it also gives them a chance to rectify some of the health mistakes they are not aware they are making. Fasting help them take a step back and revise their health habits that could potentially save their health.

Written by: Sadiya Badurdeen

Researchers uncover novel and noninvasive way to track dengue infection

Commonly used to detect solid tumors, positron emission tomography (PET) paired with the glucose metabolism probe, fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG), is considered ‘old’ technology in the field of cancer. A team from DukeNUS Medical School (DukeNUS) and Singapore General Hospital (SGH) has now found a new use for this ‘old’ technology in another field: infectious diseases research. Using FDGPET as an imaging tool for dengue infection in mouse models, the team has potentially uncovered a novel and noninvasive way to track the infection in real time and more accurately assess the effectiveness of new treatments for dengue.

Similar to how radar is able to track and visualize where ships are in the
ocean, PET is able to track and visualize where in the body glucose is taken up by cells. FDG is a radioactive version of glucose, which when injected into a mouse and absorbed by cells, can be seen using PET. Inflammation of the small and large intestines is known to occur in dengue infected mice, and with it cellular uptake of glucose and FDG increases. Knowing this, the team set out to use PETFDG
to visualize inflammation as a marker of dengue infection in
mice.

“To our knowledge, this is the very first time PET has been systematically
evaluated in the field of acute viral infectious diseases. We are excited to be able to repurpose this noninvasive technology, and generate such robust images of live dengue infection in the body,” commented the lead author of the study, DukeNUS Assistant Professor AnnMarie Chacko from the Cancer and Stem Cell Biology Programme, and head of the DukeNUS
for Translational and Molecular Imaging (LTMI).
Not only was increased inflammation observed in the spleen, and small and large intestines of dengue infected mice, but the inflammation subsided after antivirals were given. In addition, tracking glucose uptake with FDGPET predicted the progression and severity of dengue infection, as well as the effectiveness of treatment.
“Being able to visualise dengue infection in the body potentially transforms how the effectiveness of new dengue therapeutics is assessed. We look forward to collaborating with academic and industry partners who are looking to validate their new dengue therapeutics using this novel approach,” added Professor Subhash Vasudevan from the Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme at DukeNUS and senior author of the publication.
Dr Jenny Low, Senior Consultant with the Department of Infectious Diseases at SGH and a clinician on the research team explained, “Traditionally, in research, the amount of virus in the blood is measured and used as an indicator of disease severity. What makes the findings of this study so groundbreaking is that we may have a noninvasive
way to track dengue infections in our patients more accurately during clinical trials to better measure if the experimental treatment given is effective.”
Whether the basic laboratory findings are translatable to dengue patients
hinges on a joint SGH/DukeNUS study led by Dr Shirin Kalimuddin, Consultant with the Department of Infectious Diseases, SGH. This clinical study is currently recruiting dengue patients as volunteers. Ultimately, the hope is that noninvasive PETFDG imaging can be used to transform the assessment of new dengue treatments in clinical trials so that infections may be more effectively treated in the clinic.
Source: DukeNUS Medical School

‘Give blood. Give now. Give often.’ – World Blood Donor Day

Blood is probably the only liquid on the planet with as many responsibilities as a stressed-out mother with a 2-year-old. Think about it; the contents of blood help transport oxygen and glucose throughout our body, fight disease and gives us healing ‘powers.’ It may sound magical, but what if something as functional as blood could also be the death of you?

Our blood is so diverse that there are a few different varieties that exist; what makes them so different from each other is just a single component; small, complex molecules on the outer surface of the red blood cell membrane called antigens ‘A’ and ‘B.’ These antigens protect red blood cells from destruction by our immune system. Antigens A and B are responsible for our 4 blood groups; A, B, AB and O. But how are 4 blood types obtained from just 2 antigens? And where did the O come from?

This is where we need to take a closer look at our genes. The A and B antigens on our red blood cells are coded for by 3 different alleles (alternative forms of a particular gene); A, B and O. The A and B alleles code for the A and B antigens. The O allele although it exists, is lazy and codes for neither.

Let’s put this into perspective. We inherit one copy of each gene from our parents which gives every individual two alleles determining their blood group. Gene dominance causes one allele from one parent to dominate the other. In blood, the A and B alleles are dominant while the O allele is recessive. For example, if both your parents have type A blood, you will have type A blood, or vice versa. Since O is recessive, you will receive type A blood if you receive alleles A and O.

People with blood group AB are very special because they get the best of both options. If you receive type A and B from your parents, the A and B alleles are both dominant and are expressed together.  Like a race where two people finish at the same time and the 1st prize goes to them both. This genetic phenomenon is called codominance and results in type AB blood. Let’s not forget the O squad! If your parents have type O blood, since the O allele codes for neither A nor B antigens, you will receive type O blood.

Now that everything is understood, how can blood actually be a matter of life and death? Well, when carrying out blood transfusions if someone with type A blood receives type B blood, the antigens in the body that are complementary to type A antigens will reject the B antigens and annihilate them. This is where people with type AB blood are brought back into the lime light because they possess antigens A and B and are universal recipients of blood groups A, B and AB. Those with type O don’t produce any antigens making them universal donors, but reject any other blood type other than O.

But these antigens are insufficient when considering blood donations. Another antigen system called the Rhesus factor (+/-), which determines the presence (+) or the absence (-) of a D antigen on the red blood cell membrane, is why we have +’s and – ‘s for each blood group (A+, A- etc.)

Sri Lanka is among the many middle-income countries that have a blood donation rate of 11.7% per 1000 people. The World Health Organization has witnessed a significant increase in voluntary unpaid blood donations in the past few years. Although blood donations are common, access to safe blood is rare. But it shouldn’t discourage anyone from donating blood and that is why this year’s message encourages you to donate blood because yours could be the reason for someone’s life.

Written by: Sadiya Badurdeen

Study suggests Zika virus poses wider threat in human pregnancies

Zika virus infection passes efficiently from a pregnant monkey to its fetus,
spreading inflammatory damage throughout the tissues that support the fetusand the fetus’s developing nervous system, and suggesting a wider threat in human pregnancies than generally appreciated.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison infected four pregnant rhesus macaque monkeys at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center with a Zika virus dose similar to what would be transferred by a mosquito bite, and found evidence that the virus was present in each monkey’s fetus.
“That is a very high level ; 100 percent exposure ; of the virus to the fetus
along with inflammation and tissue injury in an animal model that mirrors the infection in human pregnancies quite closely,” says Ted Golos, a UW–Madison reproductive physiologist and professor of comparative biosciences and obstetrics and gynecology. “It’s sobering. If microcephaly is the tip of the iceberg for babies infected in pregnancy, the rest of the iceberg may be bigger than we’ve imagined.”
The UW–Madison researchers, along with collaborators at Duke University and the University of California, Davis, published their study of the Zika-infected pregnancies today in the journal PLOS Pathogens.
Their work, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, followed the pregnancies from infection in the first or third trimester, regularly assessing maternal infection and fetal development and examining the extent of infection in the fetus when the pregnancies reached term.
Three of the fetuses involved had small heads, but not quite so small relative to normal that they would meet the human standard for diagnosing microcephaly; the most striking and widely discussed result of Zika infection since Brazilian doctors raised alarm in 2014 of many babies with arrested brain development.
The new study did not find abnormal brain development, but the researchers did discover unusual inflammation in the fetal eyes, in the retinas and optic nerves, in pregnancies infected during the first trimester.
“Our eyes are basically part of our central nervous system. The optic nerve
grows right out from the fetal brain during pregnancy,” says Kathleen Antony, a UW–Madison professor of maternal fetal medicine and an author of the study. “So it makes some sense to see this damage in the monkeys and in human pregnancy ; problems such as chorioretinal atrophy or microphthalmia in which the whole eye or parts of the eye just don’t grow to the expected size.”
The similarities between the monkey pregnancies and reported complications in Zika affected human pregnancies further establish Zika infection in monkeys as a way to study the progression of the infection and associated health problems in people.
“There are so many things about Zika infection we can’t study as well in
pregnant humans ; or fast enough to make a difference for a lot of people
who may be infected,” says Dawn Dudley, a UW–Madison pathology research scientist and one of the lead authors of the new research with Antony and obstetrics and gynecology graduate student Sydney Nguyen.
An animal model opens the door to studying how Zika infection interacts with other infections (like dengue virus), how the effects of early pregnancy infection might be different from later infection, and, according to Dudley, whether quick treatment with some antiviral therapies could manage the damage of what has come to be known as congenital Zika syndrome.
“The precise pathway that the virus takes from mom’s bloodstream to the fetal bloodstream, across that interface, cannot be studied except in an animal model,” says Golos, whose research group found damage from Zika infection in every part of the interface between mother and fetus ;
the placenta, amniotic fluid in the womb and the lining of uterus.
While the immediate effects may not be as dramatic as microcephaly, “the
results we’re seeing in monkey pregnancies make us think that, as they grow, more human babies might develop Zika related disease pathology than is currently appreciated,” Golos says.

Source: http://news.wisc.edu/zikainfectionscouldbefactorinmorepregnancies/

Immunity: The Human Body’s Army

History books across the globe never fail to mention immunization’s most successful feat; the eradication of smallpox. A deadly disease that struck fear through everyone in the 20th century, it had killed 300-500 million people and left life-long scars in its wake. What started as a theory by Edward Jenner ended with the development of the first vaccine.

But how did Edward Jenner know that material from the cowpox virus could potentially inoculate a person against smallpox? To understand how vaccines work we need to understand how our body’s immune system functions. When a foreign pathogen enters our body the immune system triggers a series of responses to identify and remove them from our bodies. Symptoms such as fever, coughing and inflammation are indications of these responses taking place.

But that’s just our first line of defense. Our second line of defense, or adaptive immunity is the star of the show. Not only do they (B cells and T cells) attack these potentially harmful pathogens, but they also record information about them in case of a re-infection. The only downside to adaptive immunity is the race for time. The body takes time to build up these defenses and therefore puts those with weaker or immature immune systems (e.g. elders and infants) in danger of severe re-infection.

This is where vaccines use the same principles as our body’s immune system to defend us. Vaccines trigger our adaptive immune system without exposing us to the full strength of the disease. Today we have several different types of vaccines that work in different ways. Live attenuated vaccines and inactive vaccines are examples but they have a downside in that they are difficult to make and again, put those with weaker immune systems at risk. Subunit vaccines are far better because they only contain part of the pathogen that triggers the immune response. Scientists are now developing DNA vaccines where they can isolate the genes that make the specific antigens the body needs to respond to a particular type of infection. Once injected, these genes instruct the body cells to make the antigen to trigger the response and protect the body from any future infections.

The longest running, most deadly and incurable diseases out there are HIV AIDS and cancer. Immunization has contributed to the following successes in the last 2 years;

In 2015, a new AIDS vaccine was given the green light to proceed for human trials. The scientist who was also the first to claim that HIV triggered the disease said the vaccine took 15 years to develop and thorough testing on monkeys was required before they could collect the funds and develop the vaccine for humans. They, quote ‘wanted more and more answers before going into people.’ Called the “full-length single chain vaccine,” it contains the HIV surface protein gp120 that has been engineered to attach to parts of the CD4 receptor on our immune cells and trigger antibodies against this protein.

In June 2016, a new universal cancer vaccine was developed and scientists conducted the first trials on humans and mice. Using the principle of immunotherapy (using patients’ own immune system to attack cancer), this vaccine can be given to patients who already have cancer and it works by shooting ‘darts’ of RNA extracted from the patient’s cancer cells at the body’s immune cells to trigger a massive attack on any and all tumors. The RNA in the ‘darts’ can be extracted from patients with different cancers and the vaccine can be made quickly and inexpensively for each type of cancer rendering it ‘universal.’

Immunization has come a long way with many great successes. As the world anticipates another breakthrough like the eradication of smallpox, Edward Jenner would have been proud to know that his theory has been exaggerated to great extents and is saving the lives of millions of people.

Written by: Sadiya Badurdeen

Researchers find many postmarket safety events after FDA approval of new drugs

How often are safety concerns raised about a drug after it’s been approved by the FDA? Nicholas Downing, MD, of the Department of Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and colleagues have found that for drugs approved between 2001 and 2010, nearly 1 in 3 had a postmarket safety event. The team defines postmarket safety events as those that lead to either withdrawal from the market due to safety concerns, a boxed warning or FDA issuance of a safety communication. They found that of 222 novel therapeutics the FDA approved during this time period, three were withdrawn, 61 received boxed warnings and 59 elicited safety communications. The team’s findings are published in JAMA.

“The fact that so many new safety risks are being identified after FDA approval indicates that the FDA is taking its responsibility of ensuring the safety of new drugs throughout their lifetime seriously,” said Downing, lead author of the study. “However, these safety risks emerge, on average, four years after approval. This means that many patients are exposed to these medications before the risks become clear.”

The team found that three drugs had been withdrawn from the market over an average follow-up period of 11.7 years. Boxed warnings, which are issued when new, life-threatening risks are identified, were issued for 61 drugs, including antipsychotics, SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and a class of drugs for the treatment of autoimmune disease. Safety communications, which are issued when new, serious risks are identified, were issued for 59 drugs, including drugs for migraine, erectile dysfunction and diabetes.

Postmarket safety events were significantly more frequent among biologics, therapeutics indicated for the treatment of psychiatric disease, those receiving accelerated approval and those with near-regulatory deadline approval. Events were significantly less frequent among drugs with regulatory review times less than 200 days.

“This analysis highlights that there is residual uncertainty about the risks and benefits of new drugs at the time of approval, thereby demonstrating the need for all stakeholders engaged in the drug development process to commit to the generation of clinically useful information both before and after regulatory approval,” said Downing.

Source : http://www.news-medical.net/news/20170509/Researchers-find-many-postmarket-safety-events-after-FDA-approval-of-new-drugs.aspx

RemediumOne Celebrates its Sports Day

April 28th was a long awaited date for which all employees of RemediumOne very much looked forward to. On this day, in keeping with the local traditions of the Sri Lankan New Year, RemediumOne organized a traditional sports festival. After several weeks of planning, practicing and teaser emails by the HR department, Friday the 28th of April dawned, sunny and blue skied; perfect weather for the RemediumOne sports day. It was a day of discovery for all RemediumOne employees, where hidden talents were uncovered and the most unlikely individuals competed side by side to win many traditional games such as cricket, tug-of-war, lime and spoon, blind feeding yoghurt to a blind and kabaddi. Little did we know that we had such amazing sportsmen and sportswomen among us. But more than the trophies or the prizes, it was the solidarity and coming together of all the staff that made this event a memorable one for all of us. In a company such as RemediumOne, where we take our work, and not ourselves, seriously, teamwork plays a major role in accomplishing our day to day activities. RemediumOne sports day is just an example of what we could accomplish as a team and how well RemediumOne thrives in a team environment.

 

 

Autism: A World of Our Own

As young children we were given storybooks and it wasn’t impossible to imagine the story in our minds. But imagine living with a condition in which a thousand different worlds are concocted in your mind? So much so that it distracts you from reality?

Autism Speaks organization defines Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), more commonly known as Autism as quote ‘a reference to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and non-verbal communications.’

The world around us has a way of labelling autistic individuals:

‘Anti-Social’ ‘Aggressive’ ‘Quiet’

This not only confirms the misunderstood vulnerability of the condition but also hinders the social growth of autistic individuals that would ultimately ‘free themselves’ from autism.

A major disadvantage of autism would be the extreme difficulty of progressing as an independent individual. Because in order to acquire skills of a typical adolescent (e.g. driving, hanging out with friends, dating etc.) it is essential for them to manage their behavior in case of an unexpected situation. For an autistic individual the transition from childhood to adolescence to adulthood would bring about symptoms that could either increase or decrease the effects of autism. Out of the three stages of life it is adolescence that is most vulnerable for autistic individuals. It is a time in which they learn acceptance and rejection. A time when their needs change, to which their parents must understand and adapt to.

Diagnosing autism is a difficult task due to the spectrum of characteristics it expresses in different individuals. Misdiagnosis is not uncommon and some families have taken years to correctly diagnose the condition. The lack of expertise also majorly contributes to misdiagnosis. Autism can be both genetically inherited and could also be acquired through unexpected genetic mutations. It is proven that 200-400 genes are responsible for the development of autism. These genetic mutations could range from a significant change such as the elimination of an entire gene sequence to something as minor as the change of a single amino acid in a gene sequence. When parents learn that their children have autism the most common question is ‘why?’ and ‘how did it develop?’

Any concerned parent would rummage through Google to learn more about the condition but sometimes they can be misleading. A theory that ‘vaccines cause autism’ was published as an article which caused outrage among parents in the autistic community. The theory was debunked but concerned parents demanded scientific evidence for acceptance.  Institutes of Medicine and Centers for Disease Control conducted repetitive investigations to prove this claim wrong and have succeeded in restoring comfort in the minds of these people.

Autism is not all bad. It also brings opportunities for teachers and caretakers of autistic individuals to recognize key skills and abilities that they possess (e.g. high IQ, creativity etc.) and help enhance them for their own self-improvement and to battle the disease to freedom.

As developmental cognitive neuroscientist Suzy Scherf stated, quote ‘It is our job to help teachers, doctors and policy makers understand these (autistic) vulnerabilities.’

Written by: Sadiya Badurdeen