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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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Cell Irregularity Linked to Autism in Kids

Study Shows Mitochondrial Dysfunction May Have Role in Development of Autism

Implications for Autism Treatment

Giulivi says the research could potentially lead to blood tests to screen babies for autism long before behavioral symptoms of the disorder become evident.

But Dawson says it is more likely the blood screening will be useful in children who are already diagnosed with autism.

“If we know that a child with autism has mitochondrial dysfunction, this could have implications for treatment,” she says.

She says treating mitochondrial dysfunction with lifestyle interventions including diet and exercise could potentially have an impact on autism symptoms in some children.

“We have learned that autism is associated with other medical conditions including GI [gastrointestinal] and sleep problems and seizures,” she says. “And we have learned that if we address some of these conditions we may be able to improve the autism. Mitochondrial dysfunction may be one of these conditions.”

Mitochondrial dysfunction became front and center in the debate about whether vaccines cause autism with the case of now 11-year-old Hannah Poling, whose parents said her autism symptoms began within days of receiving five routine inoculations for nine diseases in July of 2000.

They claimed that Hannah’s then undiagnosed mitochondrial disease put her at increased risk for injury from the vaccines, and in the spring of 2008 federal officials agreed, ruling that the family was entitled to payments from a fund set up to compensate people injured by immunizations.

Dawson says vaccination is usually indicated in children with known mitochondrial diseases.

“Anytime there is a challenge to the immune system there is vulnerability in these children,” she says. “Children who don’t get vaccinated are more susceptible to infections which challenge the immune system.”

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