UofL Neuroscientist So Close To Autism Breakthrough He's Helping Fund Research

By Lori Lyle

(LOUISVILLE) -- New findings could mean an incredible treatment for people with autism -- so incredible that a researcher at the University of Louisville is digging into his own pockets to make it happen as quickly as possible. WAVE 3 Medical Reporter Lori Lyle has more in this exclusive report.

Dr. Manuel Casanova, a neuroscientist at the University of Louisville, is passionate about his research. His most recent published study finds drastic differences in the brains of autistic individuals. And now, with this knowledge, he's eager to move to the next step: treatment.

The breakthrough discovery is the result of a 3-year study involving top scientists around the world.

Dr. Casanova's team at the University of Louisville was responsible for conducting the study that analyzed tissue from 12 brains -- six of them taken from people with autism.

He says the results are unquestionable, and explain symptoms exhibited from autistic patients, such as trouble speaking.

"It means that we have uncovered something very important, because it has explanatory powers," Casanova says.

The brain strands or minicolumns of autism patients have more cells, but they are narrower and more densely packed -- which can limit the brain's ability to send messages.

Dr. Casanova says that's because "there's not enough juice to actually power very long connections in the brain."

Examining tissues from a normal brain and the brain of an autistic person, Dr. Casanova explains the differences. "The more bluish staining actually means more cells present," he says.

More cells and smaller cells, making up tiny brain strands, or minicolumns. These minicolums take in information, process it and respond to it.

But the increased amount of cells works to increase other abilities -- like mathematics.

Armed with this knowledge, Dr. Casanova is ready to begin working on wiping out autism entirely. "Knowing the pathology, what is wrong with the brains of autistic individuals, opens the door to potential strategies that may actually even lead to a cure."

Dr. Casanova's first step: developing a brain stimulator to bulk-up the brain strands. And he feels so strongly about the potential that he's ready to pay for it with his own money. "I approached the university, told them I needed equipment for preliminary studies and I would match the money with my own money."

The cost for the equipment that could forever change the diagnosis of autism: $40,000. Dr. Casanova is confident he's on the verge of a major breakthrough. "Something good is about to happen," he said.

Prevention is of course the main goal for a cure, and Dr. Casanova is working on that, too. He says research findings so far point to both genetics and the environment.

Online Reporter: Lori Lyle

Online Producer: Michael Dever