The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, Maryland, today started three major clinical studies on autism, part of what the federal research center calls "the first products of a new, integrated focus on autism generated in response to reported increases in autism prevalence and valid opportunities for progress." You can read a press release from the NIMH on the announcement here.
The three studies include one that "seeks to address the widespread but unproven theory that autism may be treated successfully by chelation therapy, which seeks to remove heavy metals from the blood," the NIMH said, adding that families who believe autism was caused by the mercury-containing vaccine preservative thimerosol seek the treatment to remove mercury and other metals from an autistic child's blood.
The government's announcement doesn't say so, but chelation therapy is controversial. The launch of this study comes one year after a 5-year-old British boy died during chelation therapy treatments in a Pennsylvania doctor's office -- a case the police are still investigating, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted recently.
The NIMH also launched a study to examine the use of the antibiotic minocycline, a drug that has anti-inflammatory effects on the body, to see if it is a useful treatment for regressive autism. This is in response to past research which suggests that autism may be linked with changes in the immune response system that cause the brain to swell.
And the NIMH will define differences, behavioral and biological, in autistic children with diverse developmental histories. "Increasingly," the NIMH notes, "scientists are considering the likelihood of 'autisms,' that is, multiple disorders that comprise autism." Scientists will study children with two types of autism -- regressive and non-regressive -- and compare them to kids who have other developmental delays and to typical children. The researchers will examine a subset of these children to study whether environmental factors may trigger symptoms of autism.