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Secretin Questioned as Autism Treatment

Researchers: No Reason to Use or Recommend Secretin for Autism

WebMD Health News

July 19, 2005 -- Secretin, a digestive system hormone, may not be the hoped-for answer to autism, researchers report in The Cochrane Library.

The finding doesn't come from a new test. Instead, it's based on a review of 14 past studies.

The studies included a total of 618 children with autism and related disorders.

"There is no evidence that single or multiple dose intravenous secretin is effective, and as such it should not currently be recommended or used as a treatment for autism," write the researchers.

About the Report

Researchers working on the review included Katrina Williams of Children's Hospital at Westmead in Australia.

The studies lasted three to six weeks. Measurements included core features of autism, communication, behavior, visual-spatial skills, mood, and side effects.

Each study was designed differently. Some didn't check all of those measurements. Some just tested secretin; others compared secretin with a fake drug (placebo).

"There is no evidence to suggest that a single dose of intravenous secretin should be made available to all children with autism spectrum disorders," write the researchers.

"It also seems unlikely that multiple dose therapy is effective, although the full report of the largest multiple dose study is not available yet."

Side Effects

No serious side effects were reported.

However, "the risk to a child of serious side effects is likely to increase with repeated doses and more adverse events are likely to be reported if secretin is made widely available," write the researchers.

Secretin and Autism

WebMD contacted Jenifer Lightdale, MD, MPH, of Children's Hospital Boston for her views on the report.

Lightdale is a pediatric gastroenterologist. She worked on a study of secretin and autism published in the November 2001 issue of Pediatrics.

That study found no language and behavior benefits of secretin treatment in 20 autistic children treated for five weeks.

Secretin is FDA-approved for treating pancreatic insufficiency, but not autism, says Lightdale.

'Euphoria' Crashed

"Those of us involved initially in looking at secretin obviously got caught up in the euphoria that possibly there was a treatment for autism," Lightdale tells WebMD.

"Very quickly, I think those of us skilled in science crashed. It was clear that there probably wasn't a relationship between secretin and improvements in autism," says Lightdale.

"There continue to be investigations, but these investigations haven't been standardized. That's a big issue with any research happening in autism," says Lightdale.

"Following the general guidelines of doing a good clinical trial will really help people to decide sooner rather than later that a treatment merits further investigation or ... merits being given to kids with autism or it doesn't," she says.

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