Chinese scientists say they have genetically engineered autistic monkeys in the hope of finding new ways to treat the condition.
Experiments conducted by the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences created more than a dozen monkeys with varying degrees of autism - a developmental disability that affects how people communicate with and relate to others, and how they experience the world around them.
Each animal displays autistic symptoms - ranging from reduced interaction with other monkeys to pacing round and round their cage and becoming excessively stressed when met with eye contact.
The challenge for scientists now is to develop methods to treat the monkeys, with the long-term hope of finding a genuine cure for autism.
Speaking at a press conference organised by Nature – the journal which published the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences report - neuroscientist Zilong Qiu said the genetically engineered monkeys showed “very similar behaviour [to] human autism patients.”
Speaking about the programme, he added: “We think it provides a very unique model.”
There have previously been reports of genetically engineered autism in monkeys, but Qiu’s experiment is the first time enough animals have been produced to observe stereotypical behavioural changes which could help develop treatments, according to MIT Technology Review.
The scientists hope that an autism cure can be found by analysing the genetic changes they made when successfully creating the “severely sick” autistic monkeys.
They will now attempt to reverse the genetic changes in the live animals using various techniques.