Target: American Academy of Pediatrics President Thomas K. McInerny
Goal: Acknowledge the viral and immune components of autism-spectrum disorders and promote treatments for the condition based on such an understanding of the disorder
Autism and related disorders constitute a growing epidemic. The prevalence of autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) has increased dramatically over the past decades, more than improved detection or overdiagnosis could account for. According to the CDC, in the United States we have gone from in 150 cases of autism in 2000 to 1 in 88 in 2008. Autism impairs the ability of those it afflicts to engage in social interaction. Nonverbal cues such as body language and facial expression may go unnoticed, and some autistic individuals have difficulty perceiving sarcasm or symbolic speech, or differentiating individual faces. Despite the stereotype of the autistic loner, most autistic individuals do long for company, but their social deficits leave them lonely and frustrated. As a developmental disability, autism and ASD impair the ability of those afflicted to lead happy, fulfilling lives, deprives society of their full potential, and imposes a great burden upon society.
While the cause or causes of ASDs are yet unknown, recent research suggests two potential, and possibly interrelated, answers. Ignored due to the misdirected media attention over the long-disproven link between autism and vaccines, peer-reviewed, sound scientific research has indicated a potential linkage between immune inflammatory response, viral infection, and autism. As recently reported in the Huffington Post, researchers from the University of Nevada, the National Cancer Institute and The Cleveland Clinic have found a connection between the retrovirus XMRV and chronic fatigue in adults, and the same study found a high occurrence of XMRV antibodies in autistic children. Similar studies, such as one by Laboratory of Molecular Psychiatry & Neurogenetics in Rome, have found a possible connection between autism and Human Herpes Virus-6, a virus prevalent in the majority of the adult population which can present problems for immune-compromised individuals. Regarding neuroimmune inflammation, Carlos Pardo of John Hopkins University has conducted research into chronic inflammation of white matter in autistic patients and neuroscientist Pat Levitt, Director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development, on the connection between the gene MET, a gene affecting the immune, digestive, and central nervous system, and autism.
While further research is needed, it can be said with substantial certainty that there are either viral or immune components in at least some forms of ASDs. The connection between viruses, immune disorder, and autism-spectrum disorders cannot be ignored. Please ask the head of the American Pediatric Association to use his office to raise awareness of these potential causes of autism, and to call for further research so that we can have a better understanding and a hope of treating this tragic condition.
Dear Dr. Thomas K. McInerny,
I am writing to you to request that your Association raise public awareness and call for greater reaserch into the viral and immunological elements of autism and autism spectrum disorders. Far too many children are suffering from these conditions, and if there is a hope of improving their lives, we as a society have the moral imperative to do all in our power to find a way to do so. This imperative is especially strong for doctors, who have sworn to combat disease and alleviate suffering.
Ongoing research indicates a strong connection between autism, viral infection, and autoimmune inflammation. Discover Magazine reported in 2007 on Carlos Pardo of John Hopkins University and his research into chronic inflammation of white matter in autistic patients, as well as the work of neuroscientist Pat Levitt, director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development, on the connection between the gene MET and autism’s immunological components. On the viral side, research conducted by a team from University of Nevada, the National Cancer Institute and The Cleveland Clinic has found potential links between the retrovirus XMRV and autism, and a study by the College of Pharmacy, University of Michigan, found a potential connection to herpes virus-6.
We cannot afford to let this epidemic go untreated any longer. Please use your considerable authority to raise the awareness and direct the research we need to bring about effective treatment to the underlying neurological bases of this horrible affliction.
[Your Name Here]
Photo Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Bruce Cummins via Wikimedia Commons