London: The drug, suramin – used to treat sleeping sickness since around 1916- corrects autism-like symptoms in mice, new research has shown.
Scientists in the US found that the drug corrected 17 types of abnormality linked to the disease, including social behaviour problems, the Daily Express reported.
Autism is a wide-ranging condition, mostly seen in boys, that affects the ability to socialise and can have a devastating lifelong impact.
Around 600,000 children and adults in the UK are thought to have the disorder.
Professor Robert Naviaux, co-director of the Mitochondrial and Metabolic Disease Center at the University of California, said that the drug normalised brain connections.
“Our theory suggests that autism happens because cells get stuck in a defensive metabolic mode and fail to talk to each other normally, which can interfere with brain development and function,” he said.
“Simply put, when cells stop talking to each other, children stop talking,” he added.
The drug “blocked the danger signal, allowing cells to return to normal metabolism and restore cell communication.”
Suramin targets a messaging system that produces the cell danger response linked to immunity and inflammation.
Professor Naviaux said the “striking effectiveness” of the drug in mice would hopefully pave the way to a completely new class of anti-inflammatory drugs to treat autism.
The findings are published in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE.