A new study has showed that a “water pill”, used to treat swelling and heart failure for years, could be effective in fighting autism in children.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition related to brain development that impacts how a person perceives and socializes with others, causing problems in social interaction and communication.

The study, published in Translational Psychiatry on Monday, showed that bumetanide, a diuretic used to treat the buildup of fluid in the body, enhances developmental disability by boosting signals between neurons.

Researchers in China and at the University of Cambridge, UK carried out the study on 83 kids between three and six years old.

After three months, they found that the children treated with the diuretic scored better on a behavior scale which measures emotional response as well as verbal and non-verbal communication.

Major findings from the study also showed the drug helps nerve cells communicate more effectively by reducing the level of a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

Fei Li, lead author of Xinhua Hospital, Shanghai, who have handled several cases of children with autism, described the new finding as a welcome development.

“I have many children with autism spectrum disorder under my care,” he said.

“But as psychological treatment resources are not available in many places, we are unable to offer them treatment. An effective and safe treatment will be very good news for them.

“The mother of a four year old boy living in a rural area outside Shanghai who received the treatment told me that he was now better at making eye contact with family members and relatives and was able to participate more in activities.

“In future, we hope to be able to ensure all families, regardless of where they are living, can receive treatment for their child.”

Barbara Sahakian, co-author of the study and a psychiatrist at the University of Cambridge, described the research as a “breakthrough” expressing optimism it would help treat cases of autism disorder in families.

“I’m very excited about this. I think it could be a real breakthrough and very important for these families,” he said.

“This study is important and exciting, because it means there is a drug that can improve social learning and reduce ASD symptoms during the time when the brains of these children are still developing.

“We know GABA and glutamate are key chemicals in the brain for plasticity and learning and so these children should have an opportunity for better quality of life and wellbeing.”

About 700,000 people are said to be living with ASD in the UK alone, excluding their families.



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