…flying to Hartsfield during tornadoes…hmmm. Anyway, I am reporting my experience at the conferences this year as a, sort of, interpreter. I can help translate that scientific information into almost layman’s terms. If parents, professionals, and other practitioners wish to really understand the mish-mosh of what we are doing, these sessions may represent the earliest glimmer that some order will come about in our diagnosis and treatment of this neurologic epidemic.
The first morning’s session was Peptides of Maternal Nurture in Development and Brain-Gut Function. Dr. Welch, from Columbia University, is a kindred spirit since she has a great deal of clinical experience with NICU patients. Her presentation covered the gut-brain interaction as it applies to infants from the time of birth and how neurotransmitters (peptides) develop that encourage the mother-child relationship. Although Dr. Welch was not claiming that secretin and oxytocin should be administered to help ASD, she presented solid evidence that these neurotransmitters are poorly regulated in the face of environmental and other stressors. Her research has supported her theory that programs that support strong maternal-child bonding could help prevent and treat some autisms.
Next, Dr. Richard (Dick) Deth (pronounced Deeeth) presented Redox Signaling in the Brain and Immune System: Effects of Casein and Gluten-derived Opiate Peptides. The gain or loss of electrons (reduction-oxidation or redox) is the basis of Dr. Deth’s research. The body’s ability to resist oxidation is an evolutionary condition that helps produce a successful organism. This is regulated in great part by glutathione, which is a major chemical in the redox reaction that can ultimately determine gene expression. Dr. Deth told a compelling story about how gluten and casein NOT ONLY lead to opioid (morphine, making the child appear “stoned”) formation, but that, in some individuals it could actually inhibit the uptake of cysteine, a major amino acid in the production of glutathione. This could explain some of the improvements which occur in GF/CF patients even when there is no allergy or “leaky gut” evidence, and even more when those conditions exist. Without enough ability to handle oxidation, brain cells do not grow and function correctly.
The afternoon was devoted to an “Integrated Session on the Relationship Between Mitochondrial Function, Immune Function, and Oxidative Stress”. Presentations were given by some rock star researchers (in the ASD world), including Judy Van de Water and Jill James.
This is where it’s going to be, folks. Somewhere in this energy production – interference with that process – and the result of that struggle, there are answers to what is going on and how it might be fixed.
Dr. Robert Naviaux, MD, PhD started it off with his talk about the structure, function, the various types, and delicate balance among and between mitochondria and their host cell. Only a small percentage of ASD patients have mitochondrial disease, and a small percentage of mitochondrial disease patients have ASD. However, the presentation stressed the role of these energy powerhouses when they do not function correctly and how that could present as autism. The conclusion was Dr. Naviaux’ talk about ecogenetics, the study of the interaction between genes and environmental factors leading to states of health or disease.
Then, Dr. Van Der Water presented her material about the interaction between the immune system and the nervous system. Her research focuses on identifying markers of inflammation in the brain, blood and elsewhere in ASD patients versus other populations (including neuro-typical and children who have developmental delay that is not autism). This work has identified correlations between GSH levels and severity of autism and has even been able to identify a difference between the “congenital” and “regressive” types of autistic patients. Like the previous speaker, she concluded with a slide demonstrating how environmental disturbances along with genetic susceptibility interacts with the mitochondria leading to chemical changes that can cause the immune system to malfunction.
Dr. Jill James began her presentation with the now-familiar diagram depicting the generation of glutathione (GSH) within cells. She has been instrumental in her research that details the differences (in either GSH levels and/or reduced to oxidized GSH levels) in autistic children versus control subjects (including the ASD patients’ siblings). Her research appears to confirm the concept that autism is a whole body disorder – at least as far as the GSH abnormalities being evident in every part of the body where it has been measured. Furthermore, when intervention was provided with folate and methyl B12, there was a measured improvement in not only GSH, but also behavior. She concluded with a discussion of “The Autism Triad”, which includes the neurologic, immunologic, and gastrointestinal pathology as a result of an imbalance in oxidation-reduction.
The remainder of the afternoon was an hour-long discussion among and between the audience and the panel, expanded to include Dr. Ken Bock (practicing CAM physician and author) and Dr. Richard Frye (pediatric neurologist). Interesting stuff, but nothing outstanding to report.
Banquet tonight. More tomorrow.