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Pharmacy Professor Breaks New Ground in Autism

According to new research from pharmaceutical sciences professor Richard Deth, a link exists between exposure to certain toxins and an increased possibility of developing autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

"We're starting to see the pieces of the autism puzzle fit together. Scientists around the world were working on this problem, but we were the first team to discover the link between neurodevelopmental toxins, methylation, and autism."

His research — the first to offer this explanation for possible causes of the two increasingly common childhood neurological disorders — appears in the April 2004 issue of the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Deth and Colleagues from the University of Nebraska, Tufts University, and Johns Hopkins University found that exposure to thimerosal, the ethylmercury-containing preservative used in many childhood vaccines, potently interrupts growth-factor signaling, causing adverse affects on cellular methylation reactions.

Methylation, in turn, plays a significant role in regulating normal DNA function and gene expression, and is critical to proper neurological development in infants and children

The finding is so provocative that it grabbed international headlines when it was released in February 2004. "We're starting to see the pieces of the autism puzzle fit together," says Deth.

"Scientists around the world were working on this problem, but we were the first team to discover the link between neurodevelopmental toxins, methylation, and autism."

Deth's groundbreaking work is supported by grants from two foundations: $60,000 from the Coalition for SafeMinds (Sensible Action for Ending Mercury-Induced Neurological Disorders) and $27,000 from the Autism Research Institute (ARI).

SafeMinds is a nonprofit organization founded by parents to raise awareness of the risks to children from exposure to mercury from medical products. "It was easy for us to decide that Dr. Deth was a scientist whose work we wanted to support," says executive director Sallie Bernard.

"He has shown in a series of compelling studies that thimerosal has potent and detrimental effects on the carbon folate pathway, which has been implicated in autism in a number of other investigations."

ARI is devoted to conducting research on the causes of autism and methods of preventing, diagnosing, and treating the disorder. "Dr. Deth's findings have attracted an enormous amount of excited and favorable attention," says ARI founder and director Bernard Rimland. "He continues to contribute important ideas and data to our attempts to understand and defeat autism.

"It's a privilege to be able to further his scientific efforts to understand autism and lead to its ultimate conquest."

more...
 
Richard Deth, Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences
Coalition for SafeMinds
Autism Research Institute
  This article appeared in the May 2004 edition of Northeastern University Magazine.          

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