Virgile is one of around 60 children in France who took part in a test trial to treat autism in 2012.
They were administered a diuretic drug to determine whether this could alleviate their disorders. The treatment was based on the premise that the neurones of children suffering from autism contain abnormally high levels of chlorine. Using a diuretic helps prevent the chlorine from entering the nervous cells.
The trial proved positive and Virgile’s health improved.
Conclusive tests have already been carried out on mice. Autistic mice with abnormally high levels of chlorine were given the diuretic, which helped lower chlorine levels the same way oxytocin does for women during childbirth:
“Normally, during childbirth, chlorine levels drop thanks to a hormone called oxytocin, and we have shown that that drop in chlorine levels, which plays an important role in protecting the brain of the embryo, doesn’t occur in autistic mice at all,” says Professor Yehezkel Ben-Ari, researcher at INSERM (the French Institute of Health and Medical Research).
If the mice are injected with a diuretic on the eve of giving birth, the brain activity in the newborn mouse is normal. Pre-natal treatment is not an option for humans, though, as there is no pre-natal screening for autism to date. But the tests have raised hope for the relatives of people suffering from autism:
“Because autism has always been treated as a psychiatric illness or a disability, research into combating the disease hasn’t moved forward. So this finding is unprecedented, it opens up a whole new world and shows that autism is a problem that has to do with the brain,” says M’Hammed Sajidi, president of the organisation ‘Vaincre l’Autisme’.
However, researchers are quick to point out that the diuretic drug is by no means a miracle treatment and will not cure autism. But there’s hope it could help improve quality of life for people suffering from it.