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Saturday, January 22, 2022

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Groundbreaking autism research could prove life-changing


People with autism have hidden talents and qualities just like everyone else, despite their disorder. But new research that hints at treatment could change lives. | Katie Santana/The Cougar


Everyone is aware of autism, a widespread condition that affects millions of children and their families. But within the context of other ailments such cancer or AIDS, the scope of its research and media coverage on the disorder is limited.

However, researchers at Duke University have and are still making change. They have introduced a possible option to work toward a cure — or, at least, a treatment — for autism.

In short, the procedure involves injecting umbilical stem cells through an IV into the autistic patient’s blood and monitoring the patient’s behavior afterward. After the initial tests, the data showed the blood to be helpful. The patients’ parents and Duke researchers found behavioral improvements in 70 percent of the children, who were between the ages of 2 and 6.

Parents’ evaluations are important because behavior is subjective and parents are the only ones who truly understand the everyday symptoms of autism.

Even though the first trial was purely to test the procedure’s safety, and researchers are now conducting a more thorough trial as the FDA monitors, optimism is still high among families, and it should be.

Many are unaware that autism actually exists on a vast spectrum, hence its formal name: autism spectrum disorder. Some people have symptoms you can see: involuntary jerks or poor motor skills. Autism’s effect on the mind is less discussed outside of the medical field, but it’s the primary reason why children tease and bully their peers who have autism.

Additionally, many believe a stigma that kids and adults with autism are less intelligent than their peers, which is far from the case. In reality, the disorder creates a hindrance to adequately keeping up with everyone else when it comes to retaining material. It is not correlated to anyone’s actual level of intelligence. Some of the most intelligent people that I have met are autistic.

Some think that we should focus less on finding a treatment for autism and start accepting people as they are. Autism is not a disease, nor a virus, and a cure is not the mission. The goal is to help autistic patients live easier lives.

A former high school friend of mine named Zach led the entire graduating class in the toughest subjects such as calculus, chemistry and physics. My 11 year old baby brother, who excels in reading and writing just like his brothers, makes some of the most interesting Minecraft architecture. I’ve seen both get frustrated with daily social tasks, and this treatment could ease the stresses they endure that the rest of us don’t have to think about. 

Along with this increase in medicinal leaps towards autistic improvement, I hope social awareness increases too. For example, 1 in 68 children has some form of ASD.

Boys have a higher risk, with 1 in 42 displaying a form of ASD. Boys are socialized to be aggressive, resist affection and less communicative than girls, and those traits often follow into adulthood. Many of these attributes are heightened but present in people with autism. 

With that high of a statistic, I doubt that every single person that has symptoms is actually diagnosed, nor necessarily should they be. Lastly, we should look at environment, not solely genetics, as a cause to see if there could be effective prevention strategies within households themselves.

To further this study, Duke needs to promote and publicize these findings to reduce public doubt. Many parents get nervous at the thought of submitting their children to experimental treatments, so Duke must show parents how their child will benefit emotionally and cognitively.

The last step is put people with autism in positions where they can speak for themselves so they don’t need me to write this column on their behalf.

Opinion editor Dana Jones is a print journalism junior and can be reached at [email protected]

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