5 July 2005
The US National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) is co-ordinating an international research project into genetic causes of autism, a complex neurodevelopmental disorder with early childhood onset that causes a spectrum of emotional detachment and communication problems. Around half a million people in the UK have been diagnosed with some form of autism. Evidence from twin and family studies suggests that genetic factors are important in autistic spectrum disorders, but there is no straightforward model of inheritance.
The Autism Genome Project involves 170 experts from the US, UK, Europe and Canada, and aims to analyse 6000 DNA samples from members of around 1200 families with two autistic children. DNA microarrays will be analysed to identify any common patterns of gene expression that may be associated with the disorder, in the hope of using this information to identify key genes; genes identified will be studied for mutations that may contribute to autism. The project will be the largest study of genetic factors in autism to date, with results due to be released in early 2005. Speaking on behalf of the UK National Autistic Society, Lorna Wing commented that: "Autism is likely to have multiple genes responsible, rather than a single gene