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leigh urbschat's picture

"Progress Is Reported on a Type of Autism"

Nicholas Wade's New York Times article (2/20/2007) "Progress Is Reported on a Type of Autism" informs readers that researchers are now able to correct a genetic defect in mice, that would cause Rett syndrome (a severe type of autism) in humans. Originally, scientists believed that a brain that does not wire itself correctly in its developmental stages will never be able to correct itself. Although the treatment will not work in humans, as the mice used were genetically engineered, it does give scientists hope as it is the first time they have been able to correct a neurological defect by restoring a missing component of the affected cells.

Scientists were able to engineer a new gene to put into the mice , which cuts out the mutated portion of the gene that causes Rett syndrome, known as MECP2. The second gene was then able to be "switched on" by giving the mice certain drugs. Shortly after the mice lost all signs of Rett Syndrome.

Although scientists still have far to go before any such process could be developed for humans, such developments provide optimism that someday autism will be overcome. We discussed in class how when we learn new things our brains are continually making new connections, yet here we are talking about erasing those connections which lead to problems. When we are able to both create and remove connections within our brains, will we then each have our own "designer" brain?


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