Autism is a complex brain disorder that usually surfaces in the first three years of life. Although symptoms vary, they typically include: difficulty interacting normally with others; difficulty in speaking and communicating; an obsessive attachment to routines and repetition; and, an extreme dislike of certain sounds, textures and tastes. There is no known single cause for autism, but it is generally believed to be caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function.
There are a number of treatments - including medication, changes in diet and psychotherapy. But at this time there is no universally-accepted therapy or cure for autism.
Human and Social Costs
An estimated 1.5 million children and adults in the U.S. currently have some form of autism, and it is one of the fastest-growing developmental disabilities in our state and country. Nationwide, autism diagnoses increased 556% between 1991 and 1997, making it more common among children than cancer or Down Syndrome.
A report released in May 2003 by the California Department of Developmental Services shows that new cases of diagnosed full syndrome autism in the state doubled between 1999 and 2002, and increased a staggering 634% from 1987 through 2002.
It is estimated that autism costs the U.S. economy some $90 billion a year - and that these costs will grow to $400 billion over the next decade.
The Potential for Stem Cell Cures and Therapies
Although a curative stem cell therapy for autism may be unlikely, stem cells do provide a much-needed new weapon in the research arsenal that could allow researchers to better understand and treat this disease.
The use of stem cells in lab experiments can help scientists understand the progress of a disease at the cellular level and gives them a new way to test the effectiveness and safety of newly developed drugs and vaccines before using them in clinical trials. In this way, stem cells could play a key role in solving the puzzle of autism and paving the way for effective therapies - perhaps even cures - for this all-too prevalent childhood disorder.
That's why many people who have family members suffering from autism and groups like the Cure Autism Now Foundation strongly support stem cell research - and have endorsed the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative.
Partial List of Sources:
Cure Autism Now Foundation
The Autism Society of America
The National Institutes of Health
The National Alliance for Autism Research
"The Changing Prevalence of Autism in California." Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (2002). Lisa A. Croen, PhD, Judith K. Grether, PhD, Jenny Hoogstrate, MA, Steve Selvin, PhD. - http://www.ehib.org/cma/paper.jsp?paper_key=AUTISM_PREV