2011 Annual Report: Spotlight on Autism

We are rolling out our 2011 Annual Report stories throughout March. The full report will be posted online and available for download later this month.

Each year in our Annual Report we highlight some of the patients and scientists who represent diseases that are the focus of CIRM awards. This year one of our stories focuses on autism.

Laureen Forman got her first hint that her son Brandon had autism when he was 18 months and wouldn’t look at her husband. Her experience with Brandon, who is now 9, has led her to believe that the generally held view of autism needs to change.

“People need to realize this isn’t a psychological disorder. These kids aren’t mentally ill. These children are physically sick.”

Among those people working to understand what goes wrong within the brains of kids like Brandon is CIRM grantee Ricardo Dolmetsch of Stanford University, who also has a son on the autism spectrum.

Dolmetsch created brain cells from the skin cells of people with a form of autism. He found that those brain cells had some unusual qualities. As we write in the annual report:

When he compared the neurons generated from people without autism to those with the disease, he noticed three basic differences: the electrical signaling disruption, the lack of long-distance connections, and elevated levels of two of the chemicals that brain cells use to communicate. Norepinephrine, which plays a role in anxiety and stress, was four times to five times higher than normal, and dopamine, which is involved in attention and social behavior, was two times to three times higher.

You can read more about Forman’s story and Dolmetsch’s research in the annual report online. We also blogged about Dolmetsch’s research in November.

Previously posted annual report stories:

A.A.

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