CHICAGO (CBS) — One hundred fifty patients diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorders between the ages of 5 and 21 will be taking part in clinical trials across the country, including in Chicago.

“They will come in, they will have a full assessment, they will be randomized to take the study drug or the placebo and at the end of the five months, they’ll have the option of taking the study drug,” said Dr. Ed Cook, director of autism and genetics at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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The professor says the test drug, called Arbaclofen is designed to improve patients socialization skills.

Children with “full-blown” autism, or other autistic spectrum disorders such as Asperger’s syndrome — often have difficulty communicating and interacting with others. Although behavorial and psychological interventions are often beneficial, currently there is no medication to address social communication difficulties, a core symptom of autistic spectrum disorders.

Experts say a drug treatment is needed that would address symptoms that are often disabling for patients and families.

Cook says the drug is not a cure but, it’s a significant step toward better treatments for children with Fragile X syndrome, the genetic disorder that is most common identified cause of autism.

“We’re not expecting this to cure Fragile X or autism, but it’s a very important step in the development of new treatments,” said Cook.

UIC is the only study site in Illinois and one of 25 sites nationwide.

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