Monday, July 21, 2014

Mental disorders and the environment

Dr. Paul Patterson died last month. He was an epidemiologist and neuroscientist who worked on the influence of the environment on mental disorders. “Researchers examined the role that viral infections, such as the flu, might have in schizophrenia and other disorders, including autism.” This according to the obituaries article in Saturday July 19th, 2014 LA edition.  Patterson was part of one of those groups of researchers at Caltech. He studied the connections between infections and brain development. Patterson was a leader in the field of neuroimmunology. His research provided strong evidence that environmental factors play a major role in developing mental disorders. The challenges in the pregnant mother’s immune system can result in changes in the child’s immune system.

The exciting news is that this may lead to new ways to ameliorate the symptoms. Working with mice in the lab Patterson and his team demonstrated that bone marrow transplants significantly reduced the autism-like symptoms. While this is not likely to be the treatment for children with the disorder, the discovery may take scientist to other manipulations of the immune system that could reduce the incidence of these disorders. For example, Patterson and his team demonstrated that injecting the “autistic” mice with a specific human bacteria reduced the symptoms of the disorders. They are now working on an application to the U.S Food and Drug Administration to start testing with humans. Even when the process may take some time, it is very promising. Reducing the symptoms of the disorders would help us significantly in working with the kids to help them become productive and happy members of society. 
This is very encouraging news. The kind of news that papers don’t show in the front page or don’t make it to the TV news broadcastings. But for sure the kind of news that could change somebody’s life. Or even a family’s life. Working in the field of autism and related disorders I see first-hand the devastating effects the disorders cause in the quality of life of many families. We should make people aware of these scientific developments.

On a note related to our parenting blogs I think that knowing that health and immune system challenges, such as the flu, have a direct influence in possible mental disorders in the new born, may also lead to parents watching the future mother’s health very closely. It is imperative that before and during pregnancy the mother-to-be is under the care of appropriate medical professionals and she follows their advice carefully. Eating and drinking appropriately, managing stress, avoiding any kind of drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, are only a few aspects of the prenatal care. Prevention is a very powerful tool.

When my wife was pregnant of my daughter she was feeling very sick. We went to the doc and asked him for some meds to help her feel better. I’ll never forget what the doctor said: “Absolutely no meds, it’s the first sacrifice you make for your kid, but it’s not going to be the last one.”

Thank you Paul Patterson. You and your colleges make our lives better.

Daniel Adatto, BCBA



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