An interesting pilot study, conducted by Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, suggests that usage of growth hormones may significantly improve the social impairments associated with Autism. The researchers argue that certain insulin-like growth factors (like IGF-1) may be the reason. To support their theory, the study draws correlation between Phelan McDermid syndrome (PMD) which is caused by the deletion of SHANK gene in Chromosome 22 and Autism. Incidentally, most people with PMD are also victims of Autism, thereby strengthening this hypothesis.
Lately, this particular SHANK gene, along with its cousin PTEN, has been the subject of many studies due to its importance in the functioning of the brain’s synapses. Furthermore, the nerve cell’s synaptic maturation and plasticity may be preserved by consumption of IGF-1 growth hormones, which is commercially available and also approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
This study, conducted by Mount Sinai, is the first one that tries to establish the fact that growth hormones like IGF-1 is safe and tolerable for children with Autism. Furthermore, the research team argues that these hormones improve children’s behavior by enabling them to pay more attention to surrounding objects and also to get more attached to the same.
Nine children with Autism and PMD, between age group of 5 to 15 years, participated in this research to find the utility of IGF-1. To conduct the patient trials, the researchers used two phases of treatment on random cases: one with placebo drugs and the second one with growth hormones. The analysis conclusively suggested that the latter is significantly more potent in improving the social impairments related symptoms of autism.
Another correlated research that involved the SHANK3 gene indicated that the growth hormone can help at reversing the synaptic plasticity, i.e. the ability of synapses to strengthen or weaken over time. These two studies may now provide the foundation to develop new treatments for Autism by establishing a benchmark for the ongoing studies in this niche.
Joseph Buxbaum, the Director of the Seaver Autism Center, stated that “This clinical trial is part of a paradigm shift for developing targeted, disease-modifying medicines specifically to treat the core symptoms of ASD”.
In conclusion, researchers now have a real medical case to initiate new studies that would help them better understand the options to treat (or at least improve) the social challenges associated with autism.