Clinical trials with a 100-old drug showed surprising results for autism spectrum disorder or ASD. This drug may potentially help people suffering from autism.

Researchers at the University Of California San Diego School of Medicine performed the tests, and involved a drug known as suramin. This drug was first used in 1916 to cure sleeping sickness in Africa.

What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

For the unfamiliar, autism spectrum disorder is a group of disorders that prevents the proper development of personality, speech, and behavior in people. The CDC estimates that the condition affects one in every 68 children. This condition is four times more common in boys vis-à-vis girls.

How Were The Suramin Trials Conducted?

The SAT1 trial observed 10 boys who suffered from autism spectrum disorder. These boys were aged between 5 and 14. Five of the boys were administered suramin, while the other five were given a placebo. The trial followed in the footsteps of a previous research, which showed that a single suramin dose was effective in countering autism spectrum disorder in mice.

To assess if the suramin administration led to behavioral and speech improvements in the five boys, the researchers conducted observational tests and relied on the help of the participants' family members. The partcipants were required to fill out questionnaires and take standardized tests.

These tests included the second edition of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule or ADOS-2, the Expressive One Word Picture Vocabulary Testing or EOWPWT, the Clinical Global Impression or CGI, the Repetitive Behavior Questionnaire or RBQ, the Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist or ATEC, and the Aberrant Behavior Checklist or ABC.

Researchers asked parents of all 10 participants to fill out the questionnaires regarding these tests. In case of CGI, the parents were asked to mark off a symptom as changed, only if the change in behavior lasted more than a week within the six-week testing period.

Was Suramin Effective In Alleviating ASD Symptoms?

After the six-week study, researchers found that the ADOS-2 scores for the partcipants who were administered suramin showed an improvement. On the other hand, the placebo group showed no change. Similar improvements were also reflected in the ATEC, ABC, and CGI tests for the suramin group. However, the RBQ tests showed no improvements in either the placebo or the suramin groups.

Parents of the suramin group participants also reported seeing immense improvement in their child's speech and overall characteristics.

"We have tried every new treatment out there for over 10 years. Nothing has come close to all the changes in language and social interaction and new interests that we saw after suramin. We saw our son advance almost three years in development in just six weeks," the parents of a 14-year old participant, who received suramin during the trials, shared.

However, researchers also noted that the effects were temporary. As time passed, the century-old drug's beneficial effects slowly disappeared. This indicated that the patients would need to be administered suramin after regular intervals.

Scientists also revealed that they could not afford a more large-scale research in the absence of adequate funding. They assert that more research needs to be conducted to see if suramin, which is currently not an approved drug, can be used to treat autism spectrum disorder cases. Studies would also need to determine if the long-term use of the century-old drug caused any serious side effects.

The study's results were published in Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology on May 26.

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