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McKeefry Banner – January 2017

Irish scientists make an exciting breakthrough in the treatment of autism that could lead to new therapies

Trinity College Dublin is where much of the research had taken place (Picture: Getty)
Trinity College Dublin is where much of the autism research took place (Picture: Getty)

SCIENTISTS from Trinity College Dublin have made a discovery that represents a breakthrough towards more effective autism therapies.

A team of scientists has identified a previously undiscovered part of the brain which is effected by the condition autism spectrum disorder.

The team from Trinity College Dublin, Oxford University, ETH Zurich and Royal Holloway united in an attempt to find the regions of the brain affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The breakthrough was found by comparing MRI brain scans of people affected by autism spectrum disorder and healthy volunteers.

They were specifically looking for a part of the brain which had a social behaviours deficit between the two groups. It is hoped this breakthrough would be able to lead to new therapies for those with autism.

The identified region of the brain is the gyrus of the anterior cingulate cortex, which is a part of the brain that reacts when someone else experiences a surprise.

The leader of the team of scientists, Dr Joshua Henk Balsters, who had done much of the investigation at Trinity College Dublin while working as a postdoctoral research fellow, described how autism can affect normal personal exchanges.

Dr Balsters explained: “We found that individuals with ASD are less accurate at identifying other people’s expectations, but they also lack the typical response when surprising things happen to other people.”

“We are really excited by this, it opens up a whole new avenue of research for us that could contribute to new therapies and pharmaceutical treatments.”

There is no cure for autism spectrum disorder.

But treatment for the condition involves a routine of specialist educational and behavioural therapy usually starting from a very young age.

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Kelly Bar – MPU – January

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