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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Autism therapies subject of Arizona clinical trials

Clinical trials being carried out in Arizona will look at the effectiveness of two autism therapies, including one that has been met with skepticism by some doctors.

A clinical trial already under way is testing the effects of potent vitamin and mineral supplements on autism symptoms. Children with autism suffer from social withdrawal and the inability to interact and communicate with others.

A second trial beginning in about two weeks will test what's known as chelation therapy, in which a drug is used to extract heavy metals from the bodies of autistic children. Mercury has emerged as a prime suspect in the increasing numbers of autistic children in the United States.

Dr. Sanford Newmark, a Tucson pediatrician, is the lead physician on both the chelation and vitamin trials. He is conducting physical and nutritional examinations of all the children involved, totaling more than 150 from Tucson and Phoenix, and will monitor their physical health during the trials.

About half the autistic children will receive the active chelation drug or vitamins and a control group will receive a placebo.

Neither the families nor the researchers will know who is receiving which until the trials are concluded by early next year.

Seventy-eight autistic children, ages 3 to 9, are being recruited to test a vitamin-mineral supplement given in powder form three times daily during the four-month trial.

Jim Adams, professor of chemistry at Arizona State University, who is supervising both trials, said previous small studies have shown autistic children have lower blood levels of crucial nutrients than non-autistic children.

Some 80 children will be enrolled in the chelation trial. All will be given initial doses of the chelating agent known as DMSA, dimercaptosuccinic acid, which causes excretion of heavy metals in the urine.

Chelation therapy has been used on many autistic children in the country, but without any scientific proof that it works, and despite the skepticism and disapproval of many physicians.

"I have been very reluctant to recommend chelation," said Newmark, who specializes in integrative medicine, combining mainstream with alternative treatments.

"Right now, there is absolutely no scientific evidence it affects autism, so I don't have confidence in it. But that's why we want to do these trials, to see if we can offer parents some real answers.

The vitamin study is funded by the Phoenix chapter of the Autism Society of America, ASU and the Autism Research Institute.

The chelation study is funded by the Scottsdale-based Wallace Foundation.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press.

Posted by Becca

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