Monday October 23, 2017

100-year-old Drug ‘Suramin’ making improvements in Language and Social interaction in Autistic Kids

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Harrison, 5, who is autistic, plays with Kaspar, a child-sized humanoid robot developed at the University of Hertfordshire to interact and help improve the lives of children with autism, in Stevenage, Britain, Jan. 30, 2017. VOA

New York, 30 May, 2017: Administering a single dose of 100-year-old drug suramin — originally developed to treat African sleeping sickness — can improve symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children, a study said.

During the study, four boys who received the suramin infusion displayed improvement in language and social behaviour, restricted or repetitive behaviour and coping skills.

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The most changed behaviours were social communication and play, speech and language, calm and focus, repetitive behaviour and coping skills, the researchers said.

“During the time the children were on suramin, benefit from all their usual therapies and enrichment programs increased dramatically,” said lead author Robert K. Naviaux, Professor at the University of California San Diego.

Importantly, suramin caused significant improvements in language and social interaction in a 14-year-old boy who had not spoken a complete sentence in 12 years.

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“We had four non-verbal children in the study, two 6-year-olds and two 14-year-olds. The six-year-old and the 14-year-old who received suramin said the first sentences of their lives about one week after the single suramin infusion. This did not happen in any of the children given the placebo,” Naviaux added.

The findings were reported in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.

According to Naviaux, autism is caused by metabolic dysfunction or impaired communication between cells in the brain, gut and immune system, resulting from abnormal persistence of the cell danger response (CDR) — a natural and universal cellular reaction to injury or stress.

Suramin works by inhibiting the signalling function of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) — a small molecule released from the cell as a danger signal.

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When CDR is activated, the effect of extracellular ATP is similar to a warning siren that never stops.

Suramin silences the siren, “signalling the cellular war is over, the danger has passed and cells can return to ‘peacetime’ jobs like normal neurodevelopment, growth and healing”, Naviaux noted.

However, the therapeutic benefit of suramin was temporary, as the improvements peaked and then gradually faded after several weeks as the single dose of suramin wore off, the researchers said. (IANS)

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Children with Autism can look Forward to Art therapy for Treatment

Discovering ways in which art therapy can help children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder: The results of a small scale survey

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Art Therapy for Autistic Children
Art Therapy for Autistic Children, pixabay
  • The estimates are- 1 in 68 children is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder by age 8 each year as per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Some of the best practices found out (which Art Therapists can work upon) after the survey was: use the same routine to begin each session, explain instructions in a consistent manner, spark curiosity to teach new skills and be aware of transitions between activities

Florida (US), July 28, 2017: A Researcher from Florida State University is working with art therapists in order to find better ways to treat children having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism spectrum disorder is the name for a group of the developmental disorder and includes a wide range, a spectrum of symptoms, skills, and levels of disability.

People with ASD often have these characteristics:

  • Ongoing social problems like difficulty in communicating and interacting with others
  • Repetitive behaviors and limited interests or activities
  • Symptoms that typically are recognized in the first two years of life
  • Symptoms that hurt the individual’s ability to function socially, at school or work, or other areas of life

Some people are mildly impaired by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled. Treatments and services can improve a person’s symptoms and ability to function. One such mode of treatment is Art Therapy, it promotes mental and emotional growth through art making. It is conducted with the aim of building life skills, addressing deficits and problem behaviors, and promoting healthy self-expression. Clients are encouraged to explore and express themselves using art materials

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Theresa Van Lith, assistant professor of art therapy in FSU’s Department of Art Education, led a study that surveyed art therapists working with children with ASD to develop a clearer understanding of the techniques used and approaches. Van Lith said, “I had noticed that is there is a high number of art therapists working with people who have autism, but I wanted to understand what their words of wisdom were in terms of how they go about facilitating art therapy sessions.” She added, “We want to make it a transparent process for the client or the parents of a client, so they know what to expect.”

The estimates are- 1 in 68 children is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder by age 8 each year as per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. As that population grows, more parents and educators are reaching out to art therapists to address social development and sensory issues that generally accompany ASD.

Creative Kids-Specific Activities organised to mark World Autism Awareness Day

The research team compiled the art therapists’ expert opinions and analyzed them. It was on topics like what worked with ASD clients, their objectives during a session, their most preferred theoretical approach and the considerations they had to make when working with children with ASD.

She realized that there wasn’t a consensus with the theoretical approaches they used.  “They had to use a number of theoretical approaches together, and we wanted to understand what that would be like in practice,” Van Lith said.

Though the survey results varied, the researchers were able to develop a set of guidelines for delivering art therapy to children who have ASD. The proposed guidelines will serve as a basis for successful practice for new art therapy professionals and also for further studies. Van Lith intended, “We used these practice wisdom from art therapists around the field to understand the most effective and beneficial way to use art therapy with child with ASD.”

Autistic child doing painting
An autistic child doing painting. Pixabay

Some of the best practices found out after the survey was: use the same routine to begin each session, explain instructions in a consistent manner, spark curiosity to teach new skills and be aware of transitions between activities.

The researchers also noted the aspects of practice that were found, not to be useful such as being overly directive or too loose with direction, using over stimulating art materials and forcing or being restrictive with communication styles. That’s important because sometimes there is the assumption of why can’t anyone do these techniques? People wonder why art therapy can’t be conducted in a much less formal situation. However, they don’t realize there are nuances in the way we (art therapists) deliver the art therapy directive — a lot of that is about knowing the client and the way a client responds to communication.

Based on these guidelines and consensus, Van Lith is rolling out a larger study to demonstrate the efficacy of that working model. “The idea is that, over time, we can build up the evidence that art therapy is effective for these children, and we can demonstrate the how and why,” said Van Lith said.

The ultimate goal will be- to educate art therapists about best practices as well as inform clients, parents, and teachers about possible benefits of art therapy for children with such medical condition.

“When there will be more transparency, the clients will be able to appreciate or understand some of the changes that might be going on for them as they receive art therapy,” Van Lith said. They don’t want it to be a mysterious process for them.

Van Lith co-authored the study with Jessica Stallings, associate professor at Emporia State University, and FSU alumna Chelsea Harris, who practices at the Emory Autism Center. This study was published this month in the journal Arts in Psychotherapy.

– prepared by Kritika Dua of NewsGram. Twitter @DKritika08


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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

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Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)

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Satellite sends First Quantum Signal to Earth

This is a big step towards achieving a secure and developed way to encrypt communications because ever-improving computer algorithms can not crack them

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Micius
Micius satellite. wikimedia
  • An orbiting satellite has sent the first entangled pair of photons to Earth
  • It is a big step towards achieving a secure and developed way to encrypt communications
  • They can not be cracked by ever-improving computer algorithms

June 18, 2017: It was reported by scientists today that an orbiting satellite has sent the first entangled pair of photons to Earth. It is a big step towards sending quantum keys from satellites — an approach that has been heralded as a secure and developed way to encrypt communications because ever-improving computer algorithms can not crack them.

A laser on China’s Micius satellite, which was launched last year and is dedicated to researches related to quantum satellite communications, spit out pairs of entangled photons from its position, 500 km above Earth. Then two telescopes on Earth – about 1200 km apart — had 5 minutes each day to look for them as the satellite passed over both telescopes. It was found that paired photons survived the journey through Earth’s atmosphere. They detected 1 entangled pair per second out of the 6 million sent in that time.

So how exactly does all this work?

A quantum key needs to be generated first by two people who are looking to communicate. Then, one person receives one of the entangled photons in the pair, the other person receives the other. When the received photons have measured the photons, they obtain bits of information strung together to create a key that they both have. That key can be used to encrypt and decrypt a message. The users can also share a portion of the key publicly to check if it has been compromised. In case if someone tries to intercept the communication at any point, they would then notice a difference between their strings.

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There is a certain set of problems as well. Caltech’s John Preskill believes even though it is an important proof of concept, the feat doesn’t address one of the biggest problems with quantum communications. Currently, these messages can’t be sent long distances. Photons, using an optical fiber to carry a quantum signal, can only make it about 100 km before the dissipation of the light.

Quantum systems are similar to optical telecommunications here on earth and need repeaters that are able to amplify the message so it can be passed long distances. But amplifying a quantum message in the same way optical ones are done would effectively result in the destruction of the information. That is why satellite-based communication are being eyed by researchers. The reported 500 km from space is an improvement over optical. Quantum signals were measured in another study published today from a satellite 38,000 km away to a single point. But in deploying a global network which would likely be able to combine optical fiber and satellites, the repeater problem still stands.

Preskill has predicted that it is more likely we will first come up with another form of encryption for communication. “There will be other ways of doing classical public key cryptosystems that we won’t know how to break with quantum computers,” he added.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang