Autism Risk, Cord Blood for IBD and More
New Test Measures Autism Risk
A team of Australian researchers led by University of Melbourne recently developed a test to assess infants’ and children’s risk for developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
The research team used U.S. data from 3,346 individuals with ASD and 4,165 of their relatives participating in the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE) and Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI). Of these, they identified 237 genetic markers (single-nucleotide polymorphisms) in 146 genes and related cellular pathways that either contribute to or protect individuals from developing ASD.
The test measures genetic markers for both risk and protection from ASD. An increased score on the genetics test indicates a greater risk, while a lower score indicates protective markers.
The test proved more than 70% accurate when tested on people of central European descent. Validation tests are ongoing and include the progression of accurate testing for other origins.
Cord Blood Cells May Potentially Treat IBD
New research supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute suggests a special population of stem cells found in cord blood can potentially treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) by migrating to the intestine and contributing to the cell population there.
Researchers studied this population of cells — called endothelial colony-forming cells — which are found in cord blood, bone marrow and circulating blood. They evaluated the population’s potential to migrate to the intestine and treat the dysfunctional blood vessels symptomatic of IBD. Findings indicated the cells can contribute to blood vessel formation not only in embryos, but in adults as well, sparking the idea of using them for therapy.
Researchers injected the cells into fetal sheep at 59 to 65 days gestation. They analyzed intestinal tissue approximately 11 weeks later and detected the presence of the human cells. They found the human cells migrated to the healthy intestine and survived in the cell population there, showing potential to support vascular health. The next step is to determine if cells have the ability to survive in an inflamed intestine.
A Cure for Auditory Neuropathy?
Researchers from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Biomedical Sciences are steps away from developing a cure for auditory neuropathy — a common form of deafness — after successfully repairing a similar type of hearing loss in gerbils using human embryonic stem cells.
Affecting about 15% of the global population with profound hearing loss, auditory neuropathy may result from damaged inner hair cells, a faulty connection between inner hair cells and the nerve connecting to the brain, or damage to the nerve itself. The University of Sheffield study developed a method to turn human embryonic stem cells into ear cells and then transplanted them into deaf gerbils. Four weeks after administering the cells, functional recovery was obtained at an average of approximately 46%. The improvement was evident about four weeks after administering the cells.
Scientists hope the breakthrough will help foster new treatments and therapies in the future, while also proving stem cells can repair damaged hearing.