Posted on July 12, 2012 at 5:06 PM
SAN ANTONIO -- Autism is a heartbreaking problem and it’s on the rise. Now, some local scientists are studying baby teeth to find out more about what causes this baffling neurological disorder.
One of the country’s foremost funders of autism research, a group called Autism Speaks, has provided $100,000 for this study.
Autism is a complex disorder causing a disruption in people’s ability to communicate and socialize.
“Autism rates are one in 88 and nobody knows why,” said Ray Palmer, Ph.D., an epidemiologist with the University of Texas Health Science Center.
Palmer is taking a new approach to studying autism using discarded baby teeth.
Donated teeth from children with and without autism are ground up into powder, made into liquid and gas, and put through a process called mass spectrometry. It can reveal compounds like pesticides, plastics, even medicine the child was exposed to in the womb and as they grew.
“It’s been done by looking at blood or hair analysis,” Palmer explained. "But that’s only a snapshot in time of recent exposure. It doesn’t provide a historical record of exposure like the teeth do.”
“When the teeth are forming, that’s a record of what you’ve been exposed to in utero,” Palmer added.
This kind of research is called tooth-fairy studies. Many scientists believe a genetic predisposition combined with environmental exposure triggers autism.
“This is one of the most severe epidemics affecting children,” Palmer stated. “It’s really a wide open field and it’s way overdue.”
The U.T. Health Science Center is still taking donations of teeth from children with and without autism. To find out about donation, contact the Department of Family and Community Medicine at (210) 562-6550.