Scientists close to discovering genetic trigger for autism

June 10th, 2010 - 1:53 am ICT by BNO News  

LONDON (BNO NEWS) – Scientists on Wednesday said they are close to establishing the genetic triggers for autism, opening up the possibility for earlier diagnosis and new treatments for the condition, the Guardian reported.

The identification of a range of obscure and rare genetic mutations by an international cooperative body known as the Autism Genome Project, with scientists from the US, Canada, and Europe, will further put rest to claims by some that the MMR vaccine, against measles, mumps, and rubella, is to blame for a diagnosis of autism.

“What is critical now is to translate these basic biological findings to clinical tools for early detection and treatment,” said Geri Dawson of Autism Speaks, a charity that helps fund the research. “We’re now developing behavioral interventions for infants and toddlers who are at risk for autism.”

In the largest study yet into the genetics of autism, scientists identified rare genetic variations that were twenty percent more frequent in children with autism than those without it. These “copy number variations” (CNVs), which can be missing sections of DNA or extra chunks of sequences, occur in less than one in 100 people in the general population.

Stephen Scherer of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada, said that the research could represent a paradigm shift in the way autism is diagnosed and assessed. “Most people in the field believed that autistic individuals shared common genetic variations in just a few genes,” he said. “Most people with autism are probably genetically unique, each having their own genetic form of autism.”

According to Louise Gallagher of Trinity College Dublin, identifying the genetic causes could mean that doctors would be able to diagnose autism at infancy as opposed to the lengthy diagnoses times present now. Currently, autism is based on a lengthy diagnoses procedure of behavioral assessment. With earlier detection, children could get earlier treatment.

“Some children are not getting the diagnosis until as late as five years old. With earlier detection, these children could get earlier interventions, which may limit the severity of the condition,” Gallagher concluded.

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