“A fundamental issue has been the rapidity between raising a possibility and talking as though it’s fact,” says Emanuel DiCicco-Bloom, a pediatric neurologist at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey. “I worry about this because parents ask me whether they should be treating their kid with this or that, or shouldn’t get pregnant again. There are real-world consequences.”
Van de Water says many doctors and reporters misinterpreted the news of her relationship with Pediatric Bioscience. “You license early,” she says. “The issue that arose was the misunderstanding between academia and industry about what it takes to go to market with a test; it’s a long, slow process of validation and verification.” She says that the intention is for the test to be used initially as a postnatal screen for antibodies in women as an early warning sign that a child should be monitored closely, perhaps leading to earlier diagnosis and therapy.
Eventually, though, the test would be used to assist with family planning. Van de Water argues that families deserve as much information as scientists can give them. She points out that antibody screening would only suggest whether women are high- or low-risk for having a child with autism: “What it gives families is a tool to make what is quite often a very difficult decision.”
Parents desperate for answers are some of Van de Water’s biggest supporters. Having one child with autism raises the risk of having another by 20 percent, so many families welcome any way to get a clearer sense of the odds.
Steve White, of Hayward, California, decided to participate in Van de Water’s antibody study after his third child, Herbie, was diagnosed with autism, even though he and his wife weren’t planning to have any more children. His wife tested positive for two of Van de Water’s seven antibodies. “I can’t say it solved any problems we had, but we were very glad to have answers,” says White. And a 30-year-old mother, Elise, who did not want to give her full name for privacy reasons, says that with a history of miscarriage and one son with autism, her negative results—she had none of the seven antibodies Van de Water has identified—helped her and her husband decide to try to have a second child. “We know it’s not a guarantee, but it’s nice to have one less thing to worry about,” she says.
Van de Water says she regularly gets emails from women asking when the antibody test will be ready. She knows of families who have one child with autism who have opted to use surrogates, for fear that a second child will also have the condition. Even women long past their childbearing years ask if they can be tested. “They just want to know,” she says.
Van de Water says her dream is that her work, combined with efforts to create drugs that protect against maternal antibodies, will one day make it possible to restore the fragile truce between a woman’s immune system and her growing fetus. “That would be amazing.”
This post appears courtesy of Spectrum.