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Autism and Gene Research. Who Benefits?

Posted Jul 02 2009 12:00am

Mendel Managing Editor's Note: This is a thoughtful post on the heels of Eric London's departure from Autism Speaks. 

By Teresa Conrick

I am no gene expert though I did take Genetics in high school and again learned much in college and even more while getting my Masters in Science and Education.  I thought it was fascinating - recessive genes, dominant genes, punnett squares and who could forget the father of it all, Gregor Mendel?
 
Now I wonder what Gregor would think of all of this research on autism and genes and more importantly what is the purpose?  To help Gregor out, I took a Google trip backwards year by year to see what we have learned from the research, the data and the comments from researchers. Since I have a daughter with severe autism and no family members who have autism, I am interested in how the heck genes are involved and who actually benefits from. this type of research.  Fasten your seatbelts as genetic studies can be very bumpy!
 
Let's go back to the start -- but where is the start?  Using my trusty google, I put "autism gene research study" in and after much hunting, it looked like 1997 would be a good place to start.  Why then, you might ask and that would be a good question as apparently the cases were increasing and somebody or some group thought it was time to find out why, but why genes? So here in David Letterman style, let's look at those top autism gene studies over the years and see how far we have come and what we have learned:
 
1997-"Researchers discover first autism-susceptibility gene": (HERE)

"The discovery should speed the search for additional genes that increase susceptibility to autism and enhance understanding of this complex disorder. It could eventually result in more precise diagnosis and possibly better treatments." "This is just one of at least three to five genes whose interactions result in autism," says Ed Cook, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Chicago and lead author of the report."
 
Now why is a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics looking into genes?

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