New journal; organoid ethics; acetaminophen association and more

A journal covering autism in adulthood makes its debut, researchers call for an ethical framework for human organoid studies, and the association between acetaminophen and autism risk comes under scrutiny.

By Emily Willingham
27 April 2018 | 5 min read
This article is more than five years old.
Neuroscience—and science in general—is constantly evolving, so older articles may contain information or theories that have been reevaluated since their original publication date.
  • The inaugural issue of Autism in Adulthood is available as of 18 April. Offerings in the first table of contents cover gender identity, finding friends as an adult on the spectrum, healthcare costs and accessing mental health services. Editor-in-chief Christina Nicolaidis writes in an opening editorial that she is “filled with gratitude and excitement” that adult perspectives are finding their place in autism research.
  • With the ability to grow human brains in mice, scientists have crossed into treacherous ethical territory, 17 researchers argue in a commentary published 25 April in Nature. Some of the ethical issues concern blurring the boundary between human and nonhuman animals, the researchers write. The research community needs to decide what experiments are acceptable. For instance, it might be okay to put a human heart in a pig’s body, but perhaps not a human brain.

    Other ethical issues are familiar to anyone working with cell lines or other biological samples. They include who owns the samples, consent from the source of the sample for its use, and how to handle human organoids after the research is done. None of these potential ethical pitfalls should bring organoid-related research to a halt, the researchers write.

  • Some studies have linked acetaminophen exposure in the womb to autism risk, and to language delay in girls, but others have not found an association. In the 24 April issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers say the bulk of the data support a connection between the pain reliever and autism risk, but the seven available studies have “significant limitations.”

    All of the evidence is from observational investigations, the researchers say. In these studies, the women who take acetaminophen might differ in various ways from those who do not, and the risk for bias from different sources is high. The investigators also say the studies “differed gravely in exposure and outcome assessment,” which precludes any firm conclusions based on their collective findings. Pregnant women shouldn’t be made anxious unnecessarily, they write.

  • The Journal of Molecular Autism published research on 19 April confirming long-time rumors that groundbreaking autism clinician Hans Asperger cooperated with Nazi colleagues to consign some disabled children to their deaths. In a 19 April discussion on the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, “Neurotribes” author Steve Silberman and Maxfield Sparrow, a writer and advocate on the spectrum, traced how the revelations unfolded and their possible effects on the autism community.

    Spectrum covered the revelations as well. In 2013, Asperger syndrome was “put in a coffin” as a diagnosis in favor of a general autism label in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” University of Pennsylvania’s David Mandell told Spectrum.

  • Uta Frith, who translated the paper that catapulted Hans Asperger to fame in autism research circles, has commented publicly on reports of Asperger’s collaboration with a Nazi eugenics program. Frith is an emeritus professor of cognitive development at University College London. In a 22 April letter to The Guardian, Frith calls the reports “deeply upsetting.” She notes that Asperger’s name is no longer used in most current diagnostic systems and says it is “up to the autism community to decide whether it should remain in use.”
  • Rett syndrome also was named for a clinician who reportedly worked with Nazis. Now researchers point to Rett syndrome as an example of how common measures of intelligence can mislead when applied to a non-neurotypical population.

    Evaluating intelligence in children with Rett syndrome using eye-tracking instead of intelligence quotient tests reveals that many of the girls score within the normal range. This finding runs counter to the common assumption that these children have severe intellectual disability, the researchers write 17 April in The Conversation.

  • A group called H3Africa has published an ethics guide for handling genomics data in Africa. The guide gives researchers on the continent and their partner communities a framework for the storing, sharing and use of DNA samples. Nature editors write in an 18 April editorial that much of the guidance reflects unwritten expectations for good practice that have not necessarily been applied in reality in “the scramble for African genomes.”
  • Like a background clamor of crickets, neurons of the sensory cortex stay active even without sensory stimuli. Researchers have recorded the chorus of 10,000 such neurons busily firing in the visual cortex of mice awake in the dark. They posted a preprint version of their paper describing the results on bioRxiv on 22 April and uploaded all 10,000 recordings to for other scientists to explore and use in their own projects.
  • Public health organizations agree that taking the anti-seizure drug valproate during pregnancy can pose risks to the embryo and fetus, including raising autism odds. Nevertheless, researchers say in a commentary published 18 April in The BMJ, women should still be able to decide for themselves if the benefits for them outweigh these risks, especially if no other medication is available for a potentially life-threatening seizure condition.
  • Do you have a new paper coming out? Are you making a career move? Did you see a study or news story that you want to share? Send your news tips to [email protected].