Does the Placenta Hold a Key to Understanding and Treating Autism?

An article very much worth reading in yesterday’s Jerusalem Post explains recent research into the placenta (or afterbirth).  While much has been made of the umbilical cord in understanding development (think stem cells), the afterbirth has long been disgarded.  However, Professor Harvey Kliman at Yale Medical School is increasingly paying attention to “the reddish-blue or maroon gob”–it may very well prove instrumental in understanding diseases of all kinds.

Professor Kliman’s hypotheses are particularly groundbreaking when it comes to autism:

“He conducted studies on the stored placentas of women whose children were diagnosed with autism – the development disorder causing impaired social interaction and repetitive behavior. His aim was to find a marker that would show up in the afterbirth, so that diagnosis would not have to wait for two or three years. He believes he has found a possible connection between this abnormal folding and autism. ‘It isn’t the irregular folds themselves that cause problems, but a marker, as the fetus and placenta are connected to the same genetic material,’ Kliman stressed. ‘The earlier the intervention for autism, even just after birth, the more likely we can see improvements.’ If confirmed by further studies, it could lead to new medications, he added.

“He is not currently recommending that all placentas be checked for autism after birth. ‘We’re doing a prospective multicenter study for five years using women at high risk for having an autistic child.'”

For those who follow autism research, not to mention families of the afflicted, this is very good news.  Early detection has proven elusive, and intervention in the months after birth could prove instrumental in battling autism.


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