New York, NY (October 7, 2009) – Autism Speaks' Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE) and the Autism Tissue Program (ATP) continue to play an integral role in continuing genetic research and new findings in the complex autism inheritance and causation puzzle. In a study published in the October 7, edition of the journal Nature, an extensive research team of more than 75 research institutions identified semaphoring 5A, a gene implicated in the growth of neurons to form proper contacts and connections with other neurons. Previous studies have reported lower levels of this protein in blood samples from individuals with autism as compared to controls. In this study, the researchers were also able to extend that observation to the brain tissue of individuals with autism vs. control brains.
"Taken as a whole, results from this study are consistent with reports from the past few years implicating gene/molecules involved with cell to cell contact and communication," explained Andy Shih, Ph.D., Autism Speaks vice president of scientific affairs. "If this finding holds and is further supported with additional research such as a functional study of the variant semaphorin 5A, this molecule could represent another biological target for pharmaceutical intervention in the future and possible treatment for some individuals with autism."
According to Dr. Shih, "This study is key – it reinforces the notion that deficit in proper neuronal interaction is involved with autism neuropathology. Further it is one of a few autism genetic studies to date that utilizes genome-wide association studies (GWAS), a promising new genetic analysis technique that has yielded exciting results in other complex diseases such as diabetes and bipolar disorder." Finally, Dr. Shih finds the results of this latest study to be compelling as it involved large sample sets and multiple independent replication.
"This study illustrates how complex and challenging it is to do this type of work (GWAS), and the importance of collaboration and independent replication of findings," reacted Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D. chief science officer Autism Speaks. "More than ever, the autism science community turns to and relies on the invaluable partnership with families through AGRE, the Autism Genome Project (AGP), and ATP which are changing the landscape of autism research by leaps and bounds," she concluded.
Autism Speaks AGRE program provided genetic biomaterials and clinical data from families that have more than one family member diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. AGRE makes data publicly available to qualified researchers worldwide.
Learn more about the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange
Learn more about Autism Tissue Program
Learn more about the Autism Genome Project
Autism is a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by behavioral challenges. Autism spectrum disorders are diagnosed in one in 150 children in the United States, affecting four times as many boys as girls. The prevalence of autism has increased tenfold in the last decade. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called autism a national public health crisis whose cause and cure remain unknown.
About Autism Speaks
Autism Speaks is the world's largest autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Autism Speaks funds more than $30 million each year in new autism research, in addition to supporting the Autism Treatment Network, Autism Genetic Resource Exchange, Autism Clinical Trials Network, Autism Tissue Program and a range of other scientific and medical programs. Notable awareness initiatives include the establishment of the annual United Nations-sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day on April 2 and an award-winning, multi-year national public service advertising campaign with the Ad Council. Autism Speaks' family services efforts include the Autism Video Glossary, a 100 Day Kit for newly-diagnosed families, a School Community Tool Kit and the distribution of community grants to local service providers. Its government relations department, through its Autism Votes initiative, has played a critical role in securing federal legislation to advance the federal government's response to autism, and has successfully advocated for insurance reform to require insurers to cover medically-necessary autism therapies. Each year, Autism Speaks Walk Now for Autism Speaks fundraising events are held in more than 80 cities across the country, as well as Canada and the United Kingdom. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.
About the Co-Founders
Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Bob Wright is Senior Advisor at Lee Equity Partners and served as vice chairman, General Electric, and chief executive officer of NBC and NBC Universal for more than twenty years. He also serves on the board of directors of the Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation and RAND Corporation and the New York Presbyterian Hospital Board of Trustees. Suzanne Wright has an extensive history of active involvement in community and philanthropic endeavors, mostly directed toward helping children. She serves on the boards of several non-profit organizations and is also Trustee Emeritus of Sarah Lawrence College, her alma mater. In 2008, the Wrights were named to the Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world for their commitment to global autism advocacy.