Nova Mentis Partners With UCF to Develop Saliva Test for Serotonin

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by Patricia Inácio, PhD |

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Nova Mentis is teaming up with the University of Central Florida (UCF) Research Foundation to develop a new test that will use saliva samples to measure the levels of serotonin — a key neurotransmitter — in people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), including fragile X syndrome, the company said in a press release.

Serotonin, a chemical messenger produced by nerve cells, is known to play key roles across multiple brain systems. It’s also been identified as an ASD biomarker, given that patients along the autism spectrum tend to have elevated serotonin levels.

The new procedure, or assay, is expected to be a key part of Nova’s “Diagnostic and Therapeutic Index,” a set of tools the company is developing to aid clinicians in correctly diagnosing ASD subtypes, including fragile X. It could also be used to assess patients’ responses to treatments.

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Under the new research agreement, Nova Mentis will work with the UCF Research Foundation to develop the assay. Kiminobu Sugaya, PhD, head of neuroscience in the Burnett School of Biomedical Science at UCF, will be leading the research.

His team will measure serotonin levels in the saliva samples collected as part of the recently launched Nova autism spectrum disorder (ASD) observational study, now underway at a testing site in south Florida. Serotonin can be detected across body fluids, including saliva, due to its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, a semi-permeable membrane that shields the brain from the outside environment.

“This scientific relationship with Dr. Sugaya and UCF will allow the development of a potential groundbreaking serotonin assay that will measure levels of serotonin that is contained within vesicles, or small fluid-filled sacs, that migrate through the blood brain barrier,” said Marvin S. Hausman MD, chairman of Nova’s scientific advisory board.

“Serotonin is a key neurotransmitter that has been implicated in the development of autism spectrum disorder and the ability to measure its levels in a patient’s saliva will potentially assist Nova in predicting disease development and in establishing specific treatable subsets of diseases that makeup the ‘spectrum’ called autism,” Hausman said.

Besides saliva, the collection of cheek cells will allow researchers to study the level of genetic markers of neuroinflammation in ASD patients.

The Nova study (NCT04869930) expects to enroll at least 300 people — 200 diagnosed with ASD or fragile X and at least 100 neurotypical individuals to serve as controls.

The study is recruiting and those interested should complete the enrollment form. For further information please write to [email protected] or call 1-888-505-NOVA (6682).

The collected data will be analyzed using tailored machine learning algorithms. The outcomes will aid in the design of upcoming clinical trials aimed at assessing the efficacy of Nova Mentis’ psilocybin-based therapeutics for ASD and fragile X.

Psilocybin is a psychedelic compound derived from various mushroom species. It has gained interest as a potential behavioral therapy for fragile X and other ASD conditions, as it can help address issues related to serotonin levels.

Hausman notes that the assay now in development could be useful to “assess the efficacy of various treatment programs.”