Searching for Breakthrough Therapies at Duke University

duke autism research

Duke University has established their new facility called Center for Autism and Brain Development, lead by the legendary clinician and scientist Geraldine Dawson. 

For the past 30 years she has dedicated her life’s work to finding useful treatments for individuals living with Autism. What began as a fascination with human behavior has developed into many discoveries and advancements within the field. Her ability to bridge the gap between researchers and clinicians has facilitated scientific research that is applicable to everyday life.

The center’s most recent project involves cord-blood medical therapy to help improve cognitive function of patients with autism. The study is still in its clinical trial phases and the researcher’s predictions are very uncertain. It is unknown if the umbilical-cord blood cells can actually treat or alleviate Autism. However, many are intrigued with the preliminary research.

The therapy was pioneered by Joanne Kurtzberg and has been shown to help with treatments for cancers, blood disorders, immune deficiencies, and many more. They discovered that cord-blood cells were able to cross over the blood-brain barrier. It is thought that this can help reduce inflammation or repair myelin sheaths that can increase improved connectivity.

Another project being conducted in this facility focuses on early detection. Dawson has partnered with Duke’s adolescent psychiatry leader and a computer engineer to develop a more accurate way of testing for autism at an early age. They created a video player that shows objects, animals, and people across the screen. The device records and gathers data on gestures and eye contact or lack thereof.

However, what sets her even more apart is Dawson’s continuing determination to incorporate a voice from the autism community such as John Elder Robison. Robison is the author of Look My in the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s. In the book he discusses his issues with other people through out his life but also his ability to be successful in other areas. He believes that the medical and scientific community should focus their research on where help is needed, while at the same time developing the strengths that are part of ASD.

With all these experiments, studies, and trials being conducted, the center would like to take research into a different direction. They hope to discover new types of therapies and treatments that will truly make a positive impact in many lives.

By Raiza Belarmino

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