Neuroscientist and expert on autism, Dr Andreas Grabrucker is investigating the role of biometals in the brain. Dr Grabrucker’s lab at the Bernal Institute develops model systems for prenatal zinc deficiency to evaluate the role of zinc in brain development.

These models reveal a close link between low zinc levels and autism as depleting zinc results in some of the most prominent features observed in human individuals with the condition, hinting at causality.

Currently, his lab is running a study assessing nutritional zinc levels of pregnant women in Ireland.  The study is supported by Limerick Autism Group (LAG) and to date there are over 100 participants.

Speaking about his research findings Dr Grabrucker said: “Scientists are only just beginning to understand how the food we eat and minerals we absorb affect our brain. Our research at UL will provide the scientific basis for understanding the role of zinc in our body. We will need to generate an awareness that trace metal levels during pregnancy must be tightly monitored.”

“Essential trace metals (biometals such as iron, zinc, and copper) and toxic metals (such as mercury, lead, cadmium) are considered both biological and non biological materials. Within our body, biometals fulfil important functions that maintain our bodies’ health. Therefore, they are part of biological processes and biological materials such as cells and tissues. However, being metals that cannot be produced by our bodies, they are also non-biological materials that have to be regularly taken up through our diet,” he continued.

Dr Grabrucker has published and contributed to several books and over 60 scientific articles. Recently, he authored the first book presenting the role of trace metals in Autism. His research will open new vistas to develop new therapies based on targeted manipulation of trace metals, this research is supported by Enterprise Ireland.

Dr Grabrucker is part of the Bio Materials cluster which focuses on biological materials and the interface with non-biological materials such as implants and drugs.