Autism: a large unmet medical need and a complex research problem

Physiol Behav. 2003 Aug;79(3):461-70. doi: 10.1016/s0031-9384(03)00165-3.


Autism has been becoming the focus of attention as its apparently increasing prevalence is better appreciated. According to some estimates, the frequency of children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) can be as high as 1 in 150. The diagnosis can be made as early as 2 years of age, and autistic patients often have a normal life span. Thus, in terms of the number of "patient years," ASD represents a market that is as large as that of the biggest neurological indication, Alzheimer's disease. Despite the clear unmet medical need, no effective treatment is available. This may be because the mechanism of ASD is not understood. The aim of the present paper is to review recent advances in autism research and to discuss some of the most stressing problems mainly from a preclinical research standpoint. We hope to draw attention to the need to study this devastating disease that places an enormous burden on the society in general and the relatives and caregivers of autistic patients in particular.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asperger Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Asperger Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Asperger Syndrome / therapy
  • Autistic Disorder / diagnosis
  • Autistic Disorder / economics
  • Autistic Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology
  • Autistic Disorder / therapy
  • Biomedical Research / economics
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Prevalence
  • Rare Diseases / economics
  • Rare Diseases / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology