La Jolla News Nuggets


UCSD scientists closer to ID’ing autism cause

Findings made by UC San Diego School of Medicine researchers have linked perturbed genes that regulate white blood cells with the genetics and severity of autism specrum disorder (ASD), suggesting that genetic factors influencing brain development during pregnancy may be autism’s primary cause.

Published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the paper uncovered a critical gene network that is disrupted in ASD, one related to fetal brain development.

“Our evidence suggests that abnormal signals from known ASD risk genes may be channeled through this important gene network,” said first author Vahid Gazestani, “and that, in turn, sends signals that alter fetal and postnatal brain formation and wiring patterns.”

This brings researchers a step closer to identifying the mechanisms of ASD and the biomarkers that can lead to reliable, practical and objective markers of diagnosis. Current diagnosis methods rely heavily upon clinical identification of tell-tale behavioral symptoms — such as abnormal facial expressions, limited communications skills and inappropriate social interactions — all of which can be unstable at early ages.

“There is an urgent need for robust tests that can identify the disorder and its expected severity at very early ages so that treatment can start early, enabling a better outcome for each child,” said the paper’s co-senior author, Eric Courchesne, professor of neuroscience and co-director of the UCSD Autism Center of Excellence.

Researchers to speak about Lyme disease

The Bay Area Lyme Foundation will present “Treating Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases,” 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 2 at the Sanford Burnham Prebys (SBP) Medical Discovery Institute, Building 12 Auditorium, 10905 Road to the Cure. The event, which is free and open to the public, will focus on how antibiotics and the immune system work together to fight infections transmitted by ticks.

As the prevalence of Lyme disease increases throughout the country, researchers are working hard to better understand Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, which cause complex, multi-system health issues with devastating consequences.

“Getting an accurate diagnosis here in San Diego was immensely challenging for me, and I don’t want others to have to go through this,” said La Jolla resident Sharon Wampler, a Lyme patient and co-founder of the San Diego Lyme Alliance, who will speak at the event along with Bay Area Lyme Foundation science advisor Sunjya Schweig and SBP researcher Andrei Osterman.

To register, call (650) 245-5265 or e-mail

Litterers exposed on Coastal Cleanup Day

Cigarette butts are still the most littered individual item collected during the I Love a Clean San Diego’s Coastal Cleanup Day, whose 35th annual iteration saw 6,500 volunteers clear nearly 145,000 pounds of waste from the streets, canyons, parks and beaches of San Diego County on Saturday, Sept. 21.

Many butts were discovered within feet of the water along the coast, trapped in gutters that flow to the ocean, and tossed near waterways in the inland communities. (Cigarette filters are made of plastic, do not biodegrade and are full of harmful toxins that pollute the environment when left behind.)

I Love A Clean San Diego also turned up a wheelchair and even a fridge during the clean-up, but reported that plastic, in all its forms, was still the chief polluter.

— Compiled by Corey Levitan from local reports