Autism Awareness: New insights and research

Dr. Arthur Beaudet
Dr. Arthur Beaudet

This April, Autism Awareness Month, you might see the familiar ribbon with colorful puzzle pieces on shirts, bumper stickers, social media and more. The pattern represents the mystery and complexity of the autism spectrum, but new theories and research may help put some of those puzzle pieces in the right places.

A recent Baylor College of Medicine “Evenings with Genetics” seminar highlighted the challenges of an autism diagnosis and explained the hypotheses behind a new research study that might help treat—and even prevent—autism.

Increasing rates of autism

Renowned geneticist Dr. Arthur Beaudet, the Henry and Emma Meyer Chair in Molecular Genetics Professor and chair of the Department of Molecular and Human Genetics at BCM, explains that autism is a common problem, and the spectrum varies widely.

He says that researchers are seeing significant increases in the milder form of autism, which affects mostly males. Recently, a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that 1 in 50 school-aged children is on the autism spectrum.

New hypotheses for prevention and treatment

Beaudet thinks a newly discovered genetic mutation may provide a clue to understanding how to treat—and potentially prevent—the milder form of autism that has become so prevalent.

He believes that boys who lack a gene called TMLHE, which is vital to making carnitine in the body, might be at a higher risk of autism.

Carnitine is a protein that’s presented in low abundance in fruits, vegetables, and grains, intermediate in dairy, eggs, fish and chicken, but overwhelmingly abundant in red meat. People get the majority of their carnitine from their diet.

Beaudet hypothesizes that if a deficiency of carnitine in the brain might cause this form of autism, then carnitine supplementation might be able to help and prevent this milder form of autism.

See details about Beaudet’s study to assess the role of carnitine in autism.

-By Jordan Magaziner

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