‘Autism Speaks’ Pushes NCGA to Pass Health Insurance Law

Representatives of a nationwide autism organization are lobbying the North Carolina Senate for health insurance that covers autism treatments.

And one of those advocates tells WCHL they’re not leaving Raleigh until an autism insurance bill gets passed into law.

“What I can tell you is that we’re an army of people down here, including families,” said Liz Feld, president of Autism Speaks, a national organization that advocates for people with autism and their families.

“There are more than 60,000 families here in North Carolina right now who are waiting for autism insurance coverage.”

Feld said that for the past two years, people from the organization have been “on the ground” in North Carolina, lobbying the General Assembly to pass a law that would require private insurance companies to provide coverage for autism therapies, including Applied Behavioral Analysis.

Thirty-seven states plus the District of Columbia have enacted autism insurance laws, and Autism Speaks aims to make North Carolina one of them by the end of this summer’s contentious short session of the legislature.

Such a provision already passed through the N.C. House of representatives in May of last year. Now it’s up to the State Senate, which is currently sparring with the House over the budget.

Feld said she’s hopeful it will get done.

“We know we have the support of the broader body, and we’ve been speaking to every single senator,” said Feld. “So what we need now is for the leadership to move along. And they’re obviously focused on their budget right now, and it’s just part of regulatory reform. So, we’re hopeful that they’re going to get this done sometime within the next 10 days, or certainly before they go home for the summer.”

Feld notes that providing support for families with autism is a rare bipartisan issue these days, and here in North Carolina, her organization hails Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis as a “champion” for the issue of autism insurance.

One reason for the bopartisanship, she said, is that people on both ends of the political spectrum realize the long-term savings accrued by providing autism treatments to kids as young as age 2, which is when children can be diagnosed.

She points to a Harvard study from a few years ago, which concluded that taxpayers spend about $3.2 million per child with autism over a lifetime.

And it’s likely to remain that way, said Feld, in states where children with autism are more likely to fall way behind in school.

“You know who’s picking up the tab for this?” she said. “The schools. Property tax payers. Ultimately, it’s going to be the government. These states are sitting on a ticking time bomb of cost.”


UNC Researchers Find Possible Cause For Autism

CHAPEL HILL – Researchers at the University Of North Carolina School Of Medicine have discovered a possible cause of autism.

A key group of enzymes, called topoisomerases, can have profound effect on the genetic factors behind brain development.  Associate professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology, Mark Zylka, says that these enzymes work to help keep DNA normal during developing times in a child’s life.

“These are enzymes that are called topoismerases, we like to think of them as the scissors and glue for DNA,” Zylka said “so DNA is a molecule that often gets tangled up inside of cells, and to relieve these tangles, these enzymes can cut the DNA, untangle it, and glue it back together.”

When topoisomerase inhibitors are present it may limit what genes are “untangled.”  Zylka said that he found when these inhibitors are present long genes and genes related to autism are the most affected.

“So what we found was that these enzymes seem to play a very important role in neurons in the brain, these are brain cells, and in particular these enzymes seem to be important for allowing genes that are very long to be expressed, and in particular a large number of genes that have been linked to autism spectrum disorders” Zylka said.

These inhibitors that affect the enzyme topoisomerases are known to exist in chemo-therapeutic drugs and have been around for over 40 years.  It was while studying these drugs that Zylka first began to study the effect the inhibitors would have on neurons.  Zylka says they noticed that the drugs had effects on long genes, and that autism genes are also very long.

“So that’s when we sort of put two and two together and realized that inhibiting these enzymes could have a profound effect brain development” Zylka stated.

Discovering these enzyme inhibitors can lead to new discoveries for autism and diagnosing what exactly is happening.  Zylka says that he thinks studying these inhibitors can help us identify what in nature may have inhibitors like these that could cause autism.

“We found that if you inhibit these enzymes, the expression of a lot of very long genes is impaired and so a lot of these genes are autism genes,” Zylka said “and so we think this could be used as a way to diagnose or to identify other factors or chemicals in the environment with similar effects.”

Currently the known inhibitors that Zylka is studying are in Chemo-therapeutic drugs and would only affect cancer patients that are going through Chemo-therapy.


Studies On Diabetes and Autism; OWASA Fixes Pipe

CHAPEL HILL – A study by the Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC found that diets rich in amino and omega-3 fatty acids help young people with Type One diabetes. It helps them continue producing insulin for up to two years after their diagnosis.

Researchers specifically looked at leucine, an amino acid found in soy and whole wheat products, as well as nuts, eggs and some meat and dairy. While the diabetics in the study still required insulin doses, researchers said this study points to a reduced risk of diabetes complications later in life.


Researchers at UNC found that preschoolers and preschool-aged children with Autism Spectrum Disorder saw improvements from high-quality early intervention treatment, regardless of treatment model.

The Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute study looked at the various treatment models for children with ASD and found that, as long as it was a comprehensive early program, children improved at largely equal levels.

The study involved 198 three-to-five year old children in public school districts across the country.


OWASA crews replaced a broken water pipe Tuesday on Old Forest Creek Drive.

Part of the road was closed as the repairs went from 3:00 to 10:30 a.m.

The number of customers who were left without water during the repairs was four, according to OWASA.


UNC Researchers Tackle Autism–And Stereotypes

CHAPEL HILL – UNC is doing its part in a global study on a potential new treatment for autism.

UNC ASPIRE Program clinical research manager Cheryl Alderman says the study will look at how an experimental drug known as memantine affects the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders—and researchers have already begun enrolling patients.

“The first part of the study, they’ll receive open-label medication,” she says, “(and) if they have a positive response or no response, they’ll be randomized into a separate study where they may get active medication or a placebo…(then) if the participant does not do well, they can go straight back into an open-label phase.”

UNC’s ASPIRE program, which is orchestrating the university’s involvement in the project, is dedicated to doing research on children and adolescents who are suspected to have an autism-related disorder. The study will take place at more than 80 worldwide sites; UNC-Chapel Hill is the only one in North Carolina.

Alderman says autism-related disorders fall on a spectrum, with varying degrees of severity.

“The symptoms that are common to most autism spectrum disorders are deficits in social interaction, deficits in language and communication, (and) repetitive behaviors and restrictive interests,” she says. “The severity of the deficits in those three core areas help determine (the) specific diagnosis.”

Autism spectrum disorders have received increased media attention over the past month, after some reports suggested that the gunman in the Sandy Hook tragedy might have been suffering from one—but Alderman says no evidence exists to link autism spectrum disorders to violent behavior.

“Just because someone has a mental health diagnosis, (that) does not make them more prone to violence,” she says. “It might make them more prone to certain types of behaviors, but just because someone has an autism-spectrum diagnosis, (that) does not automatically assume that they’re going to be violent or have the capacity to do that.”

And licensed psychologist Dr. Barbara Low-Greenlee says while school shooters and autism patients might share certain characteristics, violent tendencies isn’t necessarily among them.

“One of the characteristics of school shooters can be poor social skills,” she says, “but when you really look through the predictors, the truth is there are many people with many predictors that will never be a school shooter…

“Autism truly has nothing to do with a propensity towards being a school shooter.”

Researchers will be enrolling patients in the study until March. The first phase is expected to run for about 48 weeks.