COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio State University is participating in a clinical research program to determine if an Alzheimer's disease medication can be used to treat children with autism.
Children with autism from central Ohio can enroll in the program at OSU's Nisonger Center. The research involves an evaluation of the drug memantine on social interaction and communication among autistic children. OSU is among 85 research sites participating in the project in the United States.
Memantine is used to treat memory dysfunction associated with Alzheimer's.
Dr. Michael Aman, director of research at the Nisonger Center, noted in a preliminary study in 2004 that autistic children who were given memantine were more open and interactive with other people. The study also found that their ability to interact and communicate with peers improved.
"When we think of drug or medication studies, we tend to think about reducing problematic issues," Aman told The Columbus Dispatch for a story published Monday. "This is a totally opposite strategy where the emphasis is restoring and improving function."
The research program will evaluate the drug on a larger scale for children, ages 6 to 12, with autism, Asperger's syndrome and mild symptoms on the autism spectrum.
"There are behavioral and educational treatments, but this is something certainly worth watching," Hanna Rue, executive director of the National Autism Center, told the Dispatch.
Currently, no FDA-approved drugs exist that treat any of the three core symptoms of autism: impaired social interactions; impaired communication; and restricted interests, repetitive behaviors and stereotyped mannerisms.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism-spectrum disorders affect 1 in every 88 children in the country.
Monica DeBrock, whose 16-year-old son is autistic, said the drug could give families another option.
"Most of these kids want to be able to interact with their peers," she said. "They struggle, and it's frustrating for them. To give them another tool they can use is wonderful."