Children with autism did not benefit from experimental treatments made with hormones that are thought to promote social binding, researchers reported Wednesday in the largest study of its kind.
Dr. Linmary Sikic, a researcher at Duke University who led the US multi-site study in the New England Journal of Medicine, said: “We really wanted to find a benefit, but we couldn’t see it anywhere.”
A study funded by the US government used a synthetic form of oxytocin, a hormone made in the brain that stimulates uterine contractions and helps mothers develop ties with newborns.
Experiments in mice suggest that hormones may promote sociality, and small studies have shown similar effects in children with autism who often suffer from social interactions. It has been suggested that there may be.
Approximately 300 children with autism initially enrolled, 250 of whom completed a 6-month study. Children aged 3 to 17 years were sprayed with nasal drops containing oxytocin or an inactive ingredient daily for 7 weeks, followed by gradual increases in dose. The dose can be maintained or reduced as needed.
There were minor behavioral improvements in both groups, but no meaningful impact, Vikich said. In another analysis, she said, there was no difference in the outcomes of children with mild or severe autism.
One patient in the oxytocin group had serious side effects that could be caused by hormones — sedation while driving led to a car accident. Otherwise, there were no major safety concerns in the hormone and placebo groups.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 54 children in the United States has autism. Behavior therapy is the most effective treatment.
Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone and chemical messenger. It is best known for its role in inducing labor and milk release in women. Synthetic oxytocin may be given to pregnant women by IV to induce labor.
Based on the results of early studies, some doctors have begun prescribing it for children with autism. Some promoters call it the “hormone of love” and are sold online in potions and pills to boost mood and relationships.
Larry Young, a scientist at Emory University who is experimenting with animals using oxytocin, said it was too early to give up for the treatment of autism. He said hormones are better understood today than when research began almost eight years ago.
“We pay attention to it because it makes the social world around us more vibrant in our brains,” Young said.
He likened the potential impact of people with autism to removing frost from the windshield, which prevents them from reading social cues and emotions.
But without behavioral therapy and guidance, the effect can be negative, he said. He quoted a fictitious example of an autistic child spewing oxytocin every morning and starting to pay more attention to other children on the school bus. What if increased attention helps children to realize that they are mean and bullying?
“This is a very important study, because daily administration of oxytocin does not improve,” says Young. “Hopefully doctors and parents will learn from this and say this is not what we give as vitamins.” Without any other treatment.
Joyce Galaverna’s son was 13 years old when he enrolled in the study in 2015. He tolerated the treatment, but his behavior showed no improvement.
“The levels of hypersensitivity and anxiety remained almost the same throughout the study,” she said.
The North Carolina family never knew if he had received oxytocin or a placebo.
Although the results of the study were disappointing, Galaverna said her son Andre had improved after adolescent pain had eased and he entered a private school in his care. He graduated from high school in June and is currently working part-time.
Kevin Perfrey, an autism researcher at the University of Virginia, has shown that nasal feeding of oxytocin can cause changes in brain regions involved in social behavior. Said. He said the use of behavioral checklist studies to assess hormone efficacy may have limited its findings.
Brain-based measurements may help determine which children respond best to hormones, he said.
“There’s still a lot to do in the area of understanding how oxytocin is used to improve the social functioning of children with autism,” said Perfrey.
Follow AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner at @LindseyTanner.
The Associated Press’s Department of Health Sciences is supported by the Department of Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. AP is solely responsible for all content.
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