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New Drug Improves Empathy And Social Skills In People With Autism

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Scientists found that a new medication may improve social skills of patients with autism. Two new studies showed that targeting vasopressin is a safe and effective way to enhance empathy, communication, and adaptive behaviors for both adult and pediatric patients.  ( Pixabay )

People with Autism Spectrum Disorder are given hope as a new drug shows promise in enhancing patients' empathy and social skills.

Two new unrelated studies demonstrate that regulating the pathway of hormone vasopressin improves the social functioning of 223 adult men and 30 children with ASD.

Drugs that treat ASD are already existing, but these have negative side effects and do not address the core symptoms of the disorder, such as impaired social communication and repetitive behaviors.

Effectiveness Of The Drug In Men

For the first clinical trial, Federico Bolognani and colleagues assessed the efficacy of drug balovaptan, which is an oral medication that stops the receptor of vasopressin. The adult male participants were divided into four groups, which received either balovaptan or placebo for 12 weeks.

The team used the Social Responsiveness Scale, which looks into the social disturbances of patients with ASD. While they did not observe any improvements using the SRS, they observed enhanced socialization, better adaptation, and improved daily living skills using a second assessment scale for the groups who received higher doses of the drug. Most importantly, the drug was deemed safe, suggesting that this could help patients who have not seen any benefits from previous therapies.

Focus On Children With ASD

In another study, the team of Karen Parker focused on children with ASD. They administered vasopressin to the participants whose ages range from six to 12 years old to see if it can negate the patients' social deficits.

The researchers administered vasopressin intranasally to one group and placebo to another.

Evaluation through SRS show that 17 children who received the actual treatment demonstrated enhanced social behaviors compared to the 13 in the placebo group. Clinicians also observed improvement in the treated kids.

"This is a pilot trial, so it's important to acknowledge that," says Parker.

About ASD

ASD is a group of developmental disabilities, which can result in severe impairments of social, communication and behavioral skills

Signs of ASD usually appear during early childhood and last until adulthood. There is no diagnostic test to detect ASD. Doctors make the diagnosis by observing and assessing their behaviors.

The studies were published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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