Harvard, Autism, and Service Dogs

Bad News this morning from Harvard. The Boston Globe and AP reported a Freezer malfunction that caused the loss of one-third of their research inventory. Local news outlets are reporting that foul play has not officially been ruled out.

A freezer malfunctioned at a Harvard-affiliated hospital that oversees the world’s largest collection of autistic brain samples, damaging a third of the scientifically precious specimens and casting doubt on whether they can be used in research.

The director of the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center said the loss was “devastating,” particularly in light of the increasing demand for brain samples among scientists searching for the cause of autism and potential treatments.

There are now hosts of organizations springing up who provide service dogs to children with autism, and a simple google search will help you find them in your area. One organisation even exists primarily to breed, train and create dogs that are of the right temperament to be Service Dogs for Children with Autism.

http://www.northstardogs.com/ we list this site, as an example, not as an endorsement of its animal services, as an option for parents of children with autism.

Autismkey.com reported a story in february on a new finding from a research group and the science is clear, that service dogs, (with careful consideration of both the pet’s needs and the needs of each child), reduces cortisol levels which calm the child, reduce emotional outbreaks and MAY lead to less dependency upon drug therapy as an only means of treatment.

The study measured the salivary levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in 42 children with autism at three different times: before and during the introduction of a service dog to their family, and after a short period during which the dog was removed from their family …  The researchers concluded ‘that the introduction of service dogs translated into reducing cortisol levels and the number of disruptive behavioral incidents in children with ASD

What this loss of tissue samples means to the Harvard researchers in beyond measure .

Dr. Fred Volkmar, an autism researcher and director of the Child Study Center at Yale University, said the damage is even more disheartening given recent advances in autism research.

Some of that research, including autism studies involving stem cells, wasn’t even possible at the time when some of the brains were donated.

“We can’t always know where the science is going to take us,” Volkmar said. “In that respect, it’s a horrible loss. The hope is that at least it’s not a total disaster.”


If you or a loved one cares for or about someone with autism, we would urge you to investigate these options, knowing that the science is there.

Dogs calm Children with autism.


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