Researchers think drug has potential to help kids with speech, interaction
Ohio State University researchers are embarking on a study to determine if a single drug can treat both autism and Alzheimer’s disease, two different conditions affecting two different age groups, but with some similarities.
This study, led by Dr. Michael Aman of Ohio State University Medical Center, examines the effects of memantine, a drug proven safe and effective for Alzheimer’s disease, on kids with autism. Memantine has been used in Europe for nearly 30 years to help fight dementia**, and was approved for the use in Alzheimer's patients in 2003.
Both Alzheimer’s disease and autism share a brain malfunction involving a chemical called glutamate, which impacts the patient’s speech and interaction.
“In the case of Alzheimer’s we’re talking about loss of function. In the case of autistic disorder we’re talking about failure to develop,” Dr. Aman says.
Since both Alzheimer’s & autism share this key similarity, experts here hope that if a drug helps one, it may help with the other. Dr. Aman says most drugs for autism only focus on lessening symptoms like hyperactivity or repetitive actions. This study is designed to try and help communication, one of the core issues of autism.
Ohio State’s research builds on a previous study of memantine on approximately 150 children with autism which showed promising results. Investigators reported that communication improved with this medicine in about 70 percent of participants.
Thomas and Amy Hess of Columbus are optimistic for improved communication with their 10-year old son, Henry, who has autism. He is taking memantine as part of Dr. Aman’s trial. In most ways, Henry is just like most other 10-year old boys - he loves riding his bike, playing and drawing. It’s only during conversations that Henry’s autism is noticeable.
“Some days we’ll get an eight-word sentence out of him, but others we’ll just get a couple of words,” says Henry’s mother Amy Hess.
Dr. Aman is hopeful that use of the drug will lead to gradual improvements in autistic children like Henry.
“We’re not going to snap our fingers and suddenly see a total reversal, so the kinds of improvements we’re looking for might be more gradual and might be built up more slowly, but will still be beneficial.” Dr. Aman says.
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*Memantine Approved for Alzheimer’s Disease, FDA Patient Safety News: Show #22, December 2003, U.S Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved from: www.accessdata.fda.gov/psn/printer.cfm?id=182
**Memantine (Namenda) for Moderate to Severe Alzheimer’s Disease, American Family Physician, Volume 15, Number 69, March 2004. Retrieved from: www.aafp.org/afp/2004/0315/p1491.html