Study links dietary chemical with possible autism therapy

A compound that is derived from vegetables such as kale, cabbage and broccoli could limit the impact of specific mutations in a common autism gene, according to a new study.

The study was conducted in the US, involving scientists from Harvard University and the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute (CCLRI).

The research was exploring cellular and animal models of cancer, with preliminary relevance to autism.

The compound, known as indole-3-carbinol (I3C), acts on the gene PTEN, which is a suppressor of tumours. This gene is mutated in 1 per cent of people with autism, with a number of autism genes sharing links with cancer.

In this study, they found that I3C boosts the levels of functional PTEN protein in cells. Because only one copy of PTEN Is mutated in both autism and cancer, the increase would balance out the mutated copy.

Wenyi Wei, Associate Professor of Pathology at Harvard University and Study Investigator, said: “There are a few chemical tricks you can do to enrich the drug’s potential to pass the blood-brain barrier.”

However, the study is at a preliminary stage and researchers have said that while it has potential, more exploratory work is needed.

Mustafa Sahin, Professor of Neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital, said: “It’s very exciting as a potential treatment option, but there’s quite a bit of work to be done.”