Monday 27 July 2015

Verapamil, Autism, Summertime Allergy, Asthma and Eczema

As the symptoms get stronger, so does the therapy, 
going up in steps from May to July/August and then down to October

Today’s post is a practical one.  There is an interesting scientific one in preparation all about applying the emerging science of gene silencers and enhancers. 

I discovered in previous years that the summertime raging exhibited by Monty, now aged 12 with ASD, could be prevented using a small dose of the L-type calcium channel blocker, Verapamil.  Verapamil is also a mast cell stabilizer and blocks potassium channels linked to some inflammatory response.

This summer the story has repeated itself.  As the amount of airborne allergens increases from spring to summer the same seemingly mild allergy symptoms return.  So in late spring there was some sneezing and by mid-summer some eczema (atopic dermatitis) behind the knees and finally a very mild amount of asthma (slight wheezing); all of which were easily treated.

This apparently mild allergy triggers a flare-up in autism that is anything but mild.  To treat that the “silver bullet”, so to speak, is Verapamil.  It has a short half-life and so after 3-4 hours, depending on the initial dose, the effect is lost.  So in the peak of the allergy season, 20 mg every 4 hours provides near guaranteed protection.  Skipping a dose, like first one in the morning, will almost guarantee a mood change to agitation and then extreme anger.  That mood reverses within a few minutes of treatment again with Verapamil.

In late spring and early summer the use of allergy treatments (Azelastine, plus quercetin) and verapamil twice a day keeps things all under control.  But once the first faint signs of asthma reappear, due to the growing allergy effect, the only way to maintain normalcy is to make more frequent use of small doses of verapamil.  Using more antioxidants (NAC) does not have any effect; the verapamil addresses a summertime need.

In a previous post I did mention that I tried verapamil on a winter-time flare-up, just to see.  It had no effect whatsoever.  That problem was traced back to losing milk teeth and was solved with some ibuprofen, which was later replaced with Sytrinol/Tangeretin, the PPAR gamma agonist.  

Some children with autism are treated long term with Ibuprofen, or other NSAIDs, on a daily basis.  I have no doubt that it can be effective in specific cases, but the known side effects made me look for a safe alternative, which turned out to be Sytrinol.  Sytrinol has exactly the same effect as Ibuprofen, for this kind of flare-up, with no apparent side effect. Sytrinol is not a painkiller.

Since the roots of the final four milk teeth take several months to melt away and all the time levels of the inflammatory cytokine IL-6 are raised, there will be recurring behavioral flare-ups in those with the kind of over-activated immune system common in autism.  It seems plausible that the PPAR gamma agonist is down regulating  the activated microglia and thus blunting the immune over-reaction.  Anyway it works, for whatever reason.

The mast cells, degranulating due to allergens, release histamine and IL-6, the histamine causes further subsequent release of IL-6. Verapamil blocks this process.  The IL-6 released by the body to signal teeth to dissolve clearly is not reduced by Verapamil. 

The amount of inflammatory cytokines (IL-6 etc) produced by allergy is logically over a different order of magnitude to that used to signal milk teeth to dissolve.  The effect of Sytrinol is perhaps too mild to sufficiently dampen the response to the IL-6.   Maybe it helps somewhat, but I really cannot say one way or the other.

There seems to be a good case for Sytrinol year round and then Verapamil as required.  When I next update my Polypill formulation, Sytrinol will be included.

I think Verapamil likely has beneficial pleiotropic effects and so, in those who well tolerate it, it might be useful year round.  A small number of people do experience side effects.

Friday 10 July 2015

Clinical Investigation vs Off-Label Treatment for Autism

Antonio Hardan, the psychiatrist at the Stanford School of Medicine, has published another paper.  Hardan is interesting, he is a clinician rather than a rocket scientist, but he gets involved in a very wide variety of clinical trials, usually of existing drugs that might be effective in autism.

In his latest paper, this time about Glutamatergic Dysfunction in Autism, he highlights the problems with clinical trials:-

·        Heterogeneity of autism

·        Subjective rating scales rather than biological measures.

In other words there is no single autism and there is no good way to reliably measure the efficacy of any drug tested on it.  Consider what that really means.

Hardan really should know about this, just look at the clinical trials he has been involved in:-

So why bother with Clinical Trials?

This may sound like a very unscientific question, but perhaps it is not.  A couple of years ago Roche pulled the plug on Arbaclofen, because it “failed” in its autism clinical trial.  Many parents thought it worked.  Now the Simons Foundation has acquired the rights to the drug and is restarting trials.  How many other trial drugs were prematurely brushed aside?

Many years ago the hormone secretin was put forward as a therapy for autism, particularly for people with GI problems.  Several expensive clinical trials later, it was determined to be ineffective.  But some people continued to rave about it.  Where they all deluded?

The very expensive IVIG therapy has also been put forward as a wonder therapy for autism.  The critics highlight that in studies 90% of people do not benefit and therefore the therapy has little value.  But what if you are in 10% that do respond very well?

Intravenous immunoglobulin treatment of children with autism.


Since autism has been associated with immunologic abnormalities suggesting an autoimmune cause of autistic symptoms in a subset of patients, this study was undertaken to investigate whether intravenous immunoglobulin (i.v.Ig) would improve autistic symptoms. Ten autistic children with immunologic abnormalities, demonstrated on blood tests, were enrolled in this study. Their ages ranged from 4 to 17 years, with two girls and eight boys. Eight children (1 female and 7 male) historically had undergone autistic regression. Intravenous immunoglobulin, 200 to 400 mg/kg, was administered every 6 weeks for an intended treatment program of four infusions. In five children, there was no detectable change in behavior during the treatment program. In four children, there was a mild improvement noted in attention span and hyperactivity. In none of these children did the parents feel that the improvement was sufficient to warrant further continuation of the infusions beyond the termination of the program. Only in one child was there a very significant improvement, with almost total amelioration of autistic symptoms over the time period of the four infusions. Once the treatment program was completed, this child gradually deteriorated over a 5-month time period and fully reverted to his previous autistic state. In this treatment program, five children had no response to intravenous immunoglobulin. In the four children who showed mild improvements, those improvements may simply have been due to nonspecific effects of physician intervention and parental expectation (ie, placebo effect). However, in one child there was a very significant amelioration of autistic symptoms. There were no distinguishing historic or laboratory features in this child who improved. Given a positive response rate of only 10% in this study, along with the high economic costs of the immunologic evaluations and the intravenous immunoglobulin treatments, the use of intravenous immunoglobulin to treat autistic children should be undertaken only with great caution, and only under formal research protocols.

Just in this blog, which is amateur and not intended as a rigorous scientific review, we have seen numerous “rare” conditions that lead to “autism” that are actually treatable.

If you add up all these “rare” conditions you get a sizeable proportion of all the autism, diagnosed in those under four years old (i.e. more severe autism).

Clinical Investigations

If you accept that the initial autism diagnosis really tells very little, then you are left, like Hardan, testing all sorts of clever ideas on a trial group of kids who may have one to several, of thousands of discrete dysfunctions (CNVs etc.).

Then if you get a 10% response rate, you are doing great.

If you target something like oxidative stress, that is caused by hundreds of those thousands of discrete dysfunctions (CNVs etc.), then your odds of success shoot up.  This was the case in Hardan’s trial of N-acetyl cysteine.

Hardan is now going to trial oxytocin on kids with autism, but this idea has already been well and truly “trashed” by highly respected mainstream doctors.  They do this because they think autism is something easy to define and measure like high blood pressure.  If it is therapeutic in 10% of cases, that is great.

Quacks, Off-label and Clinical Investigations

I think it is great that Hardan can try all these drugs at Stanford and nobody even thinks of calling him a quack.  The same applies to a small number of inquisitive doctors at Johns Hopkins and Boston Children’s Hospital.

It would be interesting to know how Hardan treats his patients with ASD, who are not enrolled in a clinical trial.  Does he prescribe off-label? 

It is clear that most doctors in developed countries will run a mile/kilometer at the idea of treating somebody off label.  They fear being struck off/sued/ridiculed.

We had the UK pediatrician commenting on this blog that Baclofen was effective in 70+% of her/his patients with anxiety plus Asperger’s, but did not feel happy to continue prescribing it without some supporting evidence from elsewhere.  The fact that it was safe and effective was not enough.

Many of the tiny number of off-label doctors really do look like quacks to me, so I can understand the concern of mainstream doctors not to want to be associated with them.

What is the, scientifically well-briefed, parent supposed to do? (if self-treating is not an option)

I think there should be a way where you can enroll your child in a “clinical investigation”, where you accept that all the treatments are experimental and therefore have a higher level of risk than normal.  You waive your right to sue the doctor, or the hospital.  You can opt out of up to 10% of the therapies, based on valid concern.  For example, you might think IVIG is not safe.

You then enter a program in which all your child’s data can be used for research purposes.  So you agree to have to have EEGs, scans, genetic testing, spinal tap/lumbar puncture, blood tests, urine tests, hair tests etc.

The child is completely profiled and material is stored for possible further analysis later.

All known tests are then carried out, even obscure things like biotin deficiency, creatine deficiency and those amino acids we saw that triggered rare autism.

Then you go through all of the therapies known to be effective in some people.  So it includes memantine, IVIG,  donepezil, bumetanide, oxytocin, propranolol, baclofen, arbaclofen, even Zyrtec, NAC, D-Cycloserine, carnosine, carnitine, pancreatic enzymes, probiotic bacteria  etc.

The whole process would take a year.  If you treated 1,000 children you would then have a wealth of data.

You might have individually rare disorders totaling 15% of cases and then several clusters where the same drugs were effective in sizeable groups of children.  Then you would be able to look back in the data for the biomarkers of each cluster.

Then you would write a smartphone app for doctors to treat autism.  They would input the various biomarkers requested and out would come the suggested drug therapy recommendation(s).  So it would be a “guided off-label” approach where the doctor knows that the recommendations are “scientifically supported” but may not be perfect.

We just need the Simons Foundation to sponsor it! 

If you think it might be too expensive, just remember that at the recent international autism conference in Utah, there were 2,000 scientists and researchers in attendance. What exactly have they achieved, in practical terms, in the last 10 years and are likely to achieve in the next 10 years?

It does seem that some view success as diagnosing ever more people with "autism", so that they can receive "services", when they really should be diagnosing specific biological dysfunctions.

It is not an easy task, but you do not need 2,000 researchers.  You just need 20 pragmatic people to review the data and make a decision tree showing how to choose the 5 drugs most likely to help a particular person, based on their specific biomarkers.  

I guess that would leave 1,980 people with not much to do.