Autism has presented scientists around the world with numerous questions - and one of the more perplexing among the questions posed by the disorder has to do with the cause of autism itself. While a number of theories on the source of autism abound - from vague environmental origins to mercury-spiked vaccinations - an intriguing link may exist
between the common viral exposures experienced by pregnant mothers and the growing incidence of autism around the world.
, the world's largest autism science and advocacy organization, recently awarded 21 new research grants. Three of those awards composed their inaugural Trailblazer Awards
- grants issued to explore the more frontier-oriented approaches to understanding the enigma of autism. And among the Trailblazer Awards, one was given to an Italian scientist in the pursuit of a better understanding in the interaction of viral infections and the onset of autism.
"Antonio Persico, M.D. will explore an entirely new potential cause of autism - a virus that is vertically transmitted from parent to child and is potentially treatable (Vertical Viral Transmission as a Frequent Cause of Autism, University Campus Bio-Medico di Roma)," stated an Autism Speaks press release published last week in Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News
In a 2009 Digital Journal interview with Dr. Hossein Fatemi
, Professor of Psychiatry, Pharmacology and Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota Medical School - who has been studying the link between the H1N1 influenza virus and autism and schizophrenia since 1998 - this link was confirmed in mice.
"We asked a simple question," Dr. Fatemi said. "If we infect pregnant mice at various gestations with H1N1, does it cause abnormalities in the offspring's brain development. The experiment looked at the impact of H1N1 infection on brain genes in the hippocampus and in the cerebellum."
Dr. Fatemi found a direct connection between flu infection and the onset of autism, schizophrenia, and other gray and white matter afflictions.
"A large number of brain genes were affected significantly in both the hippocampus and cerebellum," said Dr. Fatemi.
Citing a CDC study on the Autism Speaks web sited, the disorder is growing at an alarming rate - afflicting 1 in 110 American children, 1 in 70 of whom are boys
In the organization's press release, Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D. said, "By piloting research, Autism Speaks is able to draw new investigators into the field of autism research and allow researchers to collect preliminary data to demonstrate whether innovative areas of exploration are plausible. Through the pilot grants as well as special research grants, we are making investments in studies with promise for immediate impact as well as in studies that will move the field in new directions for the future."