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New Drug Offers Hope for Autism Patients

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Researchers have found a drug that can help patients with Fragile X syndrome stay calm in social situations by treating their anxiety.

Dr. Elizabeth Berry-Kravis and her team found that a drug called Arbaclofen reduced social avoidance and repetitive behavior in Fragile X patients, especially those with autism. The drug increases GABA, a chemical in the brain that regulates the excitatory system in Fragile X patients.  

GABA-deficient patients are often easily excited or overwhelmed, but one trial participant said he was able to enjoy his birthday party for the first time in his life while he was on Arbaclofen.

Sixty-three patients with Fragile X participated in Berry-Kravis's placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial from December 2008 through March 2010. Of those, the patients with autism showed the biggest improvements in social behavior, Berry-Kravis said.

Fragile X syndrome, which affects one in 4,000 men and one in 6,000 to 8,000 women, causes autism in up to one-third of patients diagnosed with it. While the two disorders are linked, they are not mutually exclusive. Unlike Fragile X syndrome, which is genetic, autism is a behavioral diagnosis characterized by an inability to relate to other people or read social cues.

Although Arbaclofen worked best on autistic Fragile X patients, further studies will be needed to prove whether it can help all autism patients, not just those with autism caused by Fragile X.

Copyright  2012 ABC News Radio

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