A COMMONLY used blood pressure drug may hold the key to ‘curing’ autism, a French study has found.
In a paper published today in the journal Science, researchers in Marseille suggest that a generic diuretic long used to treat fluid retention among sufferers of high blood pressure may help treat the complex neuro-developmental disorder.
A 2006 study in mice showed that oxytocin, a hormone that triggers contractions, acts as the critical ‘switch’, turning off the function of a neurotransmitter called GABA which is vital to the development of a baby’s brain in the womb.
Now, the same scientists have found that the drug bumetanide, if given during pregnancy, can reverse autism symptoms in newborn mice bred with a genetic condition that can cause autism in people, and in rats exposed to an epilepsy drug known to significantly increase risk of autism in children.
They are now beginning carefully controlled chemical trials on children with autism.
The development brings hope to the parents of the 650,000 children with autism in France, and the millions more around the world.
Yehezkel Ben-Ari, of the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, said: "It is not silly to say, today, that if we start treatment on children early enough, it can work.
"If this result is confirmed, then it implies that what we need is as early diagnosis as possible. We know that the earlier the treatment, the better the success."
Critics have urged caution, saying the findings may not apply to humans.
Andrew Zimmerman, a paediatric neurologist and autism expert at the University of Massachusetts medical school, said: "It doesn't mean it would have benefits in humans, but it's very suggestive."
He and other researchers said it is too early for people to try the drug outside of carefully controlled clinical trials
Mr Ben-Ari also urged caution. He said he hopes the drug will show benefits across a broad spectrum of people with autism, but warned that it is not a ‘magic bullet’.
"It's important for people to understand there is no drug to cure a medical disease as complicated as autism," he said.
Last year, The Connexion reported on new measures intended to improve the early detection of autism