7 May


Reported by Lirio Sobrevinas-Covey, Ph.D.

Individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have much higher rates of cancer- related gene mutations. In a study involving a genomic database analysis, investigators initially found that autistic individuals have markedly increased rates of DNA mutations in genes associated with the development of cancer. A later study by Darbro and colleagues confirmed that earlier finding and, additionally, found that autistic patients have lower rates of cancer. It appears that children and adults with ASD exhibit a protective effect against cancer; this effect also appears to affect both males and females, although diminishing with age.

The significance of this finding is that certain cancer therapies may be “re-purposed” to treat autism. A possible explanatory mechanism is the presence of certain common cellular pathways for the development of cancer and of autism. Drugs that target cancer pathways might prove to have therapeutic value for treating autism. Some early suggestive evidence already exists. In a study of mice, rapamycin, a drug found to have anti-tumor properties was also found to prevent the development of autism. A trial of rapamycin in humans to study the benefits of rapamycin for patients with autism is underway. This is an exciting research direction towards a treatment for a condition for which an effective drug has yet to be discovered.

Reference: Benjamin Darbro, et al, Autism linked to increase oncogene mutations but decreased cancer rate. 2016, PLOS One.

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