Small patients, big breakthroughs

For the first time ever, a rare genetic defect has been discovered, and it could have major implications in the field of science.

Max Watson, 10, is unique. He plays the keyboard with his head, the drum with his foot and he communicates by computer with his elbows.

"He's amazing because through all these challenges he's still, he is so smart," said his sister Abbey Watson.

It took nearly ten years after Max was born for doctors at the University of Colorado School of Medicine to identify the cause of his disease.

He is the first of 14 boys to be diagnosed with cobalamin-x, a rare disease in which his cells cannot properly process vitamin b-12 leading to a buildup of toxins in the body.

"We were told he was one of 250 in the world when he was four months old," said his mother Deana Watson.

Eventually 13 others were identified, but Max's symptoms were more severe than the others. Doctors were stymied.

Using blood samples from Max and his parents, researchers sequenced millions of tiny pieces of DNA, every gene, and discovered a mutation on max's x chromosome.

"Low and behold, we sequence this same gene in which we found a flaw in Max,” said Dr. Tamim H. Shaikh, an associated professor of pediatrics. “All 14 kids, all the other 13 boys had flaws in that same gene. That was the 'ah-ha' moment."

"All parents wonder what impact their child is going to have on the world and Max has altered medical history,” said Max’s father, Steve Watson.

The findings, while important to science, do not change things for Max.

The hope is that one day doctors will be able to predict and maybe even prevent such birth defects by sequencing the entire human genome of parents in advance.

B-12 deficiencies can lead to other problems. Researchers say the b-12 nutrient can counter dementia, heart disease and improve athletic performance.


REPORT: MB #3692

BACKGROUND: Vitamin B12 is a supplement that works to support healthy nerve and blood cells. This nutrient also aids in prevention of megaloblastic anemia that causes people to feel weak and tired. Vitamin B12 is found in foods such as clams, beef liver, eggs, milk, poultry, meat, and fish, but many individuals decide to take an added dose of B12 to support a fast metabolism and gain an increase of energy. The B12 nutrient also counters dementia, improves athletic performance, and heart disease and has not shown any signs of harmful effects. (Source:

SYMPTOMS OF VITAMIN B12 DEFICIENCY: If a person is to have a vitamin B12 deficiency, it can mean a number of different things. Though it is extremely rare for a person to have a low count of B12, it is seen more in the elderly, HIV-infected individuals, and vegetarians. Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include:

• Difficulty walking
• Memory loss, dementia and disorientation
• Tingling or numbness in toes and fingers
• Depression or mood changes (Source:

BIRTH DEFECTS: Pregnant women who are vitamin B12 deficient run the risk of giving birth to a baby with birth defects. A study shows that B12 deficiency in early pregnancy increased the risk for delivering a baby with a birth defect up to five times. Spina bifida is a common birth defect to babies who are born with a deficiency of vitamin B12. Women who are pregnant are advised to eat foods that are rich in vitamin B12 or take supplements that will provide them with the nourishment they need to reduce the risk of birth defects. (Source:

SPINA BIFIDA: Spina bifida, meaning split spine is the most common birth defect caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency. This occurs when the baby is in the womb and the spinal cord does not close all of the way. This defect may cause paralysis and anencephaly which is a fatal condition that includes underdevelopment in the brain and the skull. To treat the defect, surgery is performed two to three days after surgery. To prevent any defects, folic acid, and B12 consumption are strongly recommended. (Source: and


Dan Meyers
Director of Communications and Media
University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
powered by Disqus
WNDU - Channel 16 54516 State Road 933 South Bend, IN 46637 Front Desk: 574-284-3000 Newsroom: 574-284-3016 Email:
Copyright © 2002-2014 - Designed by Gray Digital Media - Powered by Clickability 230548771 -
Gray Television, Inc.