New research from the University of California Davis has identified two biologically different subtypes of autism.

The findings another important step forward in understanding the causes of autism and developing effective treatments – and maybe even a cure.

The Autism Phenome Project at UC Davis’s MIND Institute has been ongoing since 2006, studying the brain growth, environmental exposure and genetic make-up of 350 children.

The two autism strains identified by the project target different systems of the body. One group of children, all boys, had enlarged brains, and most regressed into autism within 18 months, while another group all appeared to have improperly functioning immune systems that contributed to their autism.

The research complements earlier findings that have linked some cases of autism with genetic alterations that affect brain development in children.

Again, the significance of this study is that it could help specifically tailor treatments for different children and therefore improve the ability of early intervention in changing some of the behavioral and social patterns affected by autism.

For example, if a child has the autism strain associated with a dysfunctional immune system, it would likely do little good to prescribe a treatment that targets the synaptic functioning in the brain.

Lead researcher David Amaral, a UC Davis psychiatry professor, made a comparison between treating autism and treating cancer when he said, “If we were trying to cure all cancer at the same time, it would be hopeless. Well, the same is true for autism. My guess is that there just isn’t going to be a single diagnostic marker for autism – there’s going to be a whole panel.”

I hope these scientists will continue with their groundbreaking work in identifying the different strains of autism, so we can move forward in treating the condition and finding a cure.