In a commendable scientific feat, scientists at the Washington University in the American city of St. Louis have successfully genetically engineered mice to replicate the genetic structure of a 16-year-old autistic boy. This is an effort to study his condition – autism, which the team of researchers believes has been a result of the lack of the MYT1L gene in his body.
By using CRISPR, a gene-editing tool, Dr Joseph Dougherty and his team of researchers reproduced the genetic mutation of the boy named Jake Litvag in over a hundred mice in the last three years. The mice have been raised by scientists using the stem cells from Jake’s blood. They believe that the research into MYT1L can lead to potential treatments to help alleviate the problems caused by the mutation.
Early on during Jake’s childhood, his parents realized that his development wasn’t the same as other children. He struggled with walking without any help until he was four and couldn’t speak in full sentences until he was in the first grade. At five years of age, he was diagnosed with autism.
Jake’s therapist, Dr John Constantino suggested genetic testing when he turned 10. It was found that there was a missing copy of MYT1L, the absence of which is believed to cause one in every 10,000 to 50,000 cases of autism. Thereafter, the Litvags raised $70,000, and the National Institute of Health, USA granted $4 million in aid for the research into MYT1L.
Ever since the research began, Dr Dougherty has been keeping the Litvags apprised of its progress. Jake got to meet the scientists and the mice when he visited the laboratory in December 2021. He even named one of the mice that he bonded with as Jakob 1. Joe and Lisa Litvag, his parents are of the opinion that this would help him understand how important his role has been in the study and that being autistic isn’t anything to be ashamed of.