Friday, October 16, 2009

Is Autism Genetic? Researchers Zero In On Answers

Alisa Rock, whose 10-year-old son Connor has autism, says parents of autistic children often align themselves with one of two camps: There are those who believe that genes cause the disorder, and those firmly convinced that environmental factors are to blame.
Many genes and mutations are likely involved in producing autism, researchers said.
So it would seem helpful that new research on autism has just discovered a possible genetic link -- an alteration near a gene called semaphorin 5A, which is thought to guide the growth of brain-cell extensions essential for neuron-to-neuron communication. But for some parents, including Rock, the research is just a stepping stone to answering the million-dollar question: What causes autism?
"The scientific consensus now is that we're not talking about a single disorder. We're talking about a collection of disorders that are probably related," says Andy Shih, the vice president of scientific affairs for Autism Speaks, a New York City-based organization that supports autism research and advocates for people with autism and their families. "The current thinking is that there could be as many as 100 genes or more involved in autism."

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