Monday, 24 October 2011

Airways and autism

A brief post this one, based on some interesting, 'thinking outside the box' data recently presented at CHEST 2011 by physician Dr Barbara Stewart. For those (like me) not familiar with CHEST 2011, this is the annual get-together for the American College of Chest Physicians to discuss all-things related to chest medicine.

Dr Stewart presented a poster, the abstract for which is here*, which suggested that bronchoscopic evaluation of 49 children diagnosed with autism with a cough showed 'abnormalities' in the lower airways characterised by doubled branches or 'doublets'. I can't pretend to be an expert on such matters but I am reliably informed that if we picture the airways dividing like branches of a tree, one branch on one side and the other on the other side, a doublet is where twin branches come off together.

The whys and hows of these results, which were present in 100% of her participant group, are still a little hazy. Dr Stewart is cautious in her findings and the requirement for further replication of the work with a larger cohort and appropriate control groups. The speculation that this finding might be, quote: 'why the population of children with autism spectrum disorder are not truly athletic people' is perhaps a little premature. Appreciating that motor issues seem to be associated with some cases of autism, I don't yet know of any literature which evidences autism and athleticism not to be linked (if you do, please let me know). If there is a wider association between these findings and why people, generally, do not wish to be athletic...

I will be interested to see where this research leads. Not only do we have a potential correlator, physical correlator, being potentially tied to a behaviourally-presented condition like autism, where the word 'marker' might (might) be appropriate, one has to wonder how this finding ties into the day-to-day functioning of people with autism, especially those who might be prone to cough and other bronchial issues like asthma. Assuming that such a bronchial issue is a genetically-controlled (?) process, could this tie into findings in other areas like brain or gut or something related to embryological development? Who knows.

To end and following all the relevant 'elf and safety guidelines, how about some Money for Nothing?

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* Stewart B. Can bronchoscopic airway anatomy be an indicator of autism? Chest (Meeting abstracts). October 2011