April 2nd, 2010
08:48 AM ET

Latest on autism research

By Madison Park
CNNhealth.com writer/producer

April 2 is U.N.-declared World Autism Awareness Day. A life touched by autism is one forever in search of new information, and answers to the questions "Why did this happen?" and "How can I help my child?" Here's a brief wrap of some of the latest headlines about the mysterious neurological disorder, which affects as many as 1 in 110 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In March, a federal court ruled that the evidence supporting an alleged link between autism and a mercury-containing preservative in vaccines was not persuasive, and that the families of children who have  autism were not entitled to compensation. Vaccine court finds no link to autism

In February, a notorious study that linked the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism and digestive disorders, was retracted 12 years after it was published.  Its lead author Dr. Andrew Wakefield was found to have acted unethically in conducting the research by the British entity that oversees doctors.   Medical journal retracts study linking autism to vaccine

As research  indicates that the rates of autism are increasing and that about 1 percent of the children in the United States have the disorder,  there is an increasing body of science looking into causes and contributing factors to the mysterious condition.

Here are some major findings according to Autism Speaks, a leading advocacy and education organization.

1) Two major studies using different methodologies reached similar conclusions: autism is on the rise.  Four years earlier, autism spectrum disorder was found to affect 1 out of 150 children, but more recent data suggest it's closer to 1 in 91 or 1 in 110 children, depending on the study.  Research also found that autism is four times more common in boys than girls.

Prevalence of parent-reported diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder among children in the US

Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders – autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network

2) Delivering early intervention programs for children with autism improved IQ, language skills and adaptive behavior even for those as young as 18 months.

Randomized, controlled trial of an intervention for toddlers with autism: the Early Start Denver Model

3) An autism genome study found a genetic variation associated with the genes cadherin 10 and 9, which are responsible for forming nerve connections. This suggests abnormal interactions between neurons may cause the deficits seen in autism.

Common genetic variants on 5p14.1 associate with autism spectrum disorders

4) Researchers analyzed submicroscopic DNA deletions or duplications called copy number variants in the autism genome and found a new cellular pathway called "ubiquitin pathway," in the pathology of autism.

Autism genome-wide copy number variation reveals ubiquitin and neuronal genes

5) A study demonstrated that combining drug and behavioral treatments were more effective than drug treatment alone for reducing challenging behaviors.

Medication and parent training in children with pervasive developmental disorders and serious behavior problems: Results from a randomized clinical trial

For the complete list and expanded explanation, visit Top 10 Autism Research Achievements

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.