Quack cures from small studies

If what Andari found pans out -- if autism and Asperger's (which are epidemic) can be traced to a simple hormonal imbalance -- well it'll big prizes. But the rest of us need to give her the time and space needed to find out if this is true first.

I see this kind of press release every day. Simple cures for complicated problems.

Oxytocin may alleviate some autism.

A French researcher named Elissar Andari (right) did a controlled study on 13 functioning, but autistic kids, giving some a spray containing the hormone oxytocin (commonly given to hasten birth in late pregnancy) and others saline.

Those who got the oxytocin suddenly exhibited better social skills.

Over at Science Blogs Ed Jong notes oxytocin was not chosen at random.

"Autistic children have lower levels of the hormone coursing through their blood and what little there is appears to be made in an abnormal way."

Andari tested the hormone in a game and in an exercise where people look at faces. Autistics often have trouble with this last, but under oxycotin they relaxed, behaving more normally.

Still, 13 kids.

I want to see bigger numbers before I get too excited. Much as I would like to be excited. I have a relative with Asperger's, my own ADHD is rather severe, our whole family tends to be isolated. A little hormone might cure us all?

Uh, no.

Not just on this study, but on a lot of what passes for medical journalism these days. All science, including medicine, goes along a recognized path. A thesis becomes a discovery, but that discovery must be tested, not just blindly but in many people, before anyone gets too excited.

This is a big deal to Ms. Andari, which is why I have her pictured above. It's the start of what could be a fabulous career. And if what she found pans out -- if autism and Asperger's (which are epidemic) can be traced to a simple hormonal imbalance -- well it'll big prizes.

But the rest of us need to cool it. Give her the time and space needed to find out if this is true first.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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