Stanford Magazine spotlights scientists’ efforts to untangle the root causes of autism

By Lia Steakley

Autism remains largely a mystery, but step by step researchers at Stanford are making inroads. The cover story of the current issue of Stanford Magazine examines what motivated the scientists to study autism and discusses recent biomedical advancements related to the disorder, which affects 1 in every 110 kids.

Of particular interest is the work of neurobiologist Ricardo Dolmetsch, PhD, whose oldest son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4:

Dolmetsch’s team has grown brain cells from 20 patients with Timothy syndrome or other known mutations. Their ultimate goal, however, is to grow brain cells from patients with autism who have no known genetic defect and then to classify these patients according to their cellular and molecular defects—such as problems with neural communication or problems with calcium channels.

Dolmetsch plans to use these models to screen for treatments that can reverse or overcome the biological defects. He also could use them to screen potential environmental contributors to autism. Some environmental agents may injure developing neurons in ways that mimic known genetic hits, he says.

You can learn more about the functions of the brain and the nervous system as they relate to autistic disorders by watching this video.

Additionally, Dolmetsch recently discussed his research, and the seemingly growing prevalence of autism, in this 1:2:1 podcast.

Previously: Research on autism is moving in the right direction, Joachim Hallmayer discusses new Autism Genome Project study and How better understanding Williams syndrome could advance autism research