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Research on Autism Drug Taking Place in Charleston

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- One in 88 children in the U.S. is affected by autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

That number has grown over the years, but there is hope that answers might finally be found.

Medical researchers say the drug memantine could hold the key.

Part of the research for the drug is happening at CAMC in Charleston.

The drug is already FDA approved for patients with Alzheimer’s, and medical experts think it could also be the first medication to help with the primary symptoms of autism.

WSAZ.com's Melanie Shafer is one parent willing to give it a shot.

Shafer’s son, Jack, has autism and has qualified for a new clinical trial. He and about 200 other children around the world have been selected to take memantine.

“I'm a little nervous,” Shafer said. “It's exciting to think that there might be something out there to help my sweet boy.”

“It's an important step in trying to develop a treatment for a disease for which there's presently no treatment,” Dr. James Griffith with WVU Internal Medicine/Psychiatry said.

That’s a frustrating problem for parents like Shafer who have tried so many other treatments.

There are medicines and behavioral therapies to help with symptoms, but Griffith says memantine could be the first to target the primary issue.

“It will hopefully improve children's ability to socialize, interact with others, communicate with others more effectively, because those are the key problems in patients with autism,” Griffith said.

Smaller studies have already gone into the drug. So far, the results show hope.

“This is one of the few times someone in a white coat has said, ‘This really might help. Let's try this,’ ” Shafer said. “I'm hopeful that -- what if this is the light switch? That’s exciting.”

Jack is one of several children taking part in CAMC’s portion of the clinical trial.

If the drug proves to be safe and helpful, it could start being prescribed to children with autism in a couple of years.

Medical experts say the studies already done on this medication show encouraging results.

CAMC is not recruiting any more participants for this clinical trial.
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