Autism Reality

The Autism Knowledge Revolution

We are living in a revolutionary era. The hardware era is giving away to the software age, and as a result, the economic and social landscape of the world is undergoing seismic changes. The Knowledge Revolution, Noel M. Tichy, Ph.D., 2002

The world is awakening now to another knowledge based revolution – the revolutionary explosion in our knowledge of autism disorders. Like other revolutions the Autism Knowledge Revolution also promises to be seismic in its impact. Recent autism reports have brought news of the Autism Genome Project with studies providing new information about the genetic bases of autism disorders. Gene mutations are being identified as the cause of some instances of autism. A new study suggests that the amygdala, a part of the brain associated with emotional learning and fear, shrinks in people with autism, as a result of chronic stress caused by social fear in childhood.

Like other revolutions there are those who fear the onset of the Autism Knowledge Revolution and its impact. They stand on principle and cloak their fears in the mantle of human rights. Fear mongering is already spreading in relation to genetic research in autism with wild speculation about what the purveyors of such fear describe as a eugenics program similar to some of history’s worst atrocities. Others express a more practical fear; that our rapidly increasing knowledge in the genetics of autism will be of no value to older autistic children and adults. As the father of a severely autistic 11 year old boy I understand that particular fear but I do not believe that genetic research will yield only clues to prevention of autism occurrence or education of the very young. It is quite possible that our knowledge of autism disorders will assist in understanding how autism works in all individuals with an autism disorder and that may lead to new ways of understanding autistic persons and how to enhance their lives.

Hopefully one result of the Autism Knowledge Revolution will be the end of some of the needless hostility surrounding the vaccine/mercury autism debate. The believers in the Mercury Theory have clung to their theory with almost no scientific support and have resorted in desperation to belief in a world wide conspiracy involving “big pharma”, big government and a “bought and paid for” world science community doing the bidding of Big Pharma. Some opponents of the Mercury Theory have been just as virulent and would censor any reference to autism as a disorder, disease or medical condition by any term. More research, more knowledge, may well show some environmental factors in the onset of autism, mercury based or otherwise. Or it may disprove conclusively any such connections.

The future holds promise but never provides promises or guarantees. Some of the research currently under way may lead to dead ends; part of the scientific process of elimination. But the increase in knowledge of autism will undoubtedly increase our uderstanding of autism. Surely a good thing in and of itself.

The autism knowledge revolution does provide hope, hope of a cure for those who seek it for themselves or their loved ones. It is a hope based not on resignation or “acceptance of autism”. It is a hope based on solid scientific research as most of our advances of the last 300 years have been. There are no limits at this time on where this knowledge might lead. While concern that it will not assist older autistic persons is understandable it does not automatically follow that such research will be of no benefit to them and all autistic persons, regardless of age.

Those of us who are not ourselves scientists, and do not imagine ourselves to be scientists, can still assist by involvement in organizations, such as Autism Speaks, and CAIRN (Canadian Association Intervention Research Network), which have been such powerful positive forces in the advancement of autism research.

We can all lobby, create public awareness and raise funds.

We can all join the Autism Knowledge Revolution.

March 18, 2007 Posted by | autism, Autism Genome Project, Autism Knowledge Revolution, autism research, autism speaks, CAIRN, mercury | Leave a comment

Autism Genome Project – Phase II Underway

Phase II of the Autism Genome Project is now officially underway. Phase I saw the assembly of the genetic biobank and autism genome scan aimed at finding susceptibility genes. Now the international research team including Canadians Dr. Peter Szatmari and Dr. Stehen Scherer have launched Phase II using gene chip technologies to scan the genome for association with new genetic markers, and sub-microscopic copy number variations (CNVs) along chromosomes in autism. The Canadian role is central to the project:

“These findings will guide high-throughput DNA sequencing experiments designed to pinpoint underlying changes in DNA sequences in autism susceptibility genes. The unprecedented statistical power generated by the AGP will ultimately allow researchers to confirm the role of these genes in autism spectrum disorders.

“In essence, we will be looking at the genes to see if there is any abnormality that might cause this complex developmental disorder,” says Dr Szatmari. “We also want to know if the genes interact to create a combined effect that is more powerful than each alone, or whether they operate only in certain subgroups of children, such as females, those who are higher functioning, or those who have Asperger Syndrome.”

“The availability of the Centre for Applied Genomics, a provincially and nationally supported genomics infrastructure, will allow us to scan the genomes at the highest resolution, for both samples from Canada and around the world, making the Canadian contribution central to the AGP’s success,” says Dr Scherer.”

http://www.labcanada.com/issues/ISArticle.asp?id=65620&issue=02192007

Many thanks are owed to all the researchers from this international consortium, to the parents, families and autistic persons who contributed to the databank and to the backers of this incredible project: Genome Canada/Ontario Genomics Institute, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Autism Speaks, the British Medical Research Council (MRC), the Health Research Board of Ireland (HRB), Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC), the Hilibrand Foundation, the McLaughlin Centre for Molecular Medicine, IBM, the Catherine and Maxwell Meighen Foundation, and SickKids Foundation.

Discussion of the causes, even the nature, of autism is often heated and controversial, fueled by emotion and marked by an absence of hard facts. More heat than light as the old saying goes. The Autism Genome Project, based on a massive assembled bio-genetic data bank, enhanced by refreshing international scientific and professional research cooperation, and energized by rapidly developing technologies promises to add much more light to our understanding of autism disorders.

March 8, 2007 Posted by | autism disorder, Autism Genome Project, international cooperation, Scherer, Szatmari, technology | Leave a comment

Cure Autism Now & Autism Speaks Contributions to Autism Genome Project

Almost lost in all the recent excitement about the Autism Genome Project was the substantial contributions of Cure Autism Now and Autism Speaks which recently merged based on their mutual commitment to accelerate and fund biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments and cure for autism spectrum disorders; to increase awareness of the nation’s fastest-growing developmental disorder; and to advocate for the needs of affected individuals and families. A gene bank created in 1997 by Cure Autism Now, later joined by UCLA was a precursor to the massive data bank assembled for the Autism Genome Project which kick started in 2002 with funding by Autism Speaks and the National Institute of Health.

“The UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior is among 13 centers in the world to discover two genetic links that cause autism, according to a school press release.

The five year study, which was published in the Feb. 18 online edition of the journal Nature Genetics, came from results from a scan of the world’s largest collection of DNA samples from families affected by this disorder.

The study was led by the Autism Genome Project, an international consortium of scientists from 50 institutions in 19 countries. Founded in 2002 with funding from the nonprofit Autism Speaks and the National Institutes of Health, the group shared DNA samples, data and expertise in a coordinated effort to identify autism-susceptibility genes, according to the press release.

Results of the two-pronged approach implicated both a previously unidentified region of chromosome 11 and neurexin 1, a member of a gene family believed to play a key role in communication between brain cells. The neurexin finding highlighted a group of brain cells called glutamate neurons and the genes affecting their development and function, suggesting that they play a critical role in autism spectrum disorders, also according to the press release.

In 1997, the citizens group Cure Autism Now (CAN) created a gene bank in order to advance genetic research on autism. UCLA partnered with CAN to add more than 400 families to the bank, known as the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange.

Autism is a complex brain disorder that strikes in early childhood, often affecting children as young as 2 or 3. The condition disrupts a child’s ability to communicate and develop social relationships and is often accompanied by acute behavioral challenges. While the cause remains unknown, scientists suspect the disease is highly hereditary.”

http://www.canyon-news.com/artman/publish/article_5323.php

February 26, 2007 Posted by | autism cure, autism disorder, Autism Genome Project, autism speaks, autism treatment, biomedical, Cure Autism Now, UCLA | Leave a comment

Funding Critical to Autism Research

In the excitement of the big autism genome breakthrough the Montreal Gazette offers an important reminder that the research behind this breakthrough was made possible by funding. Funding is critical to sustained uninterrupted research. Now is not the time for complacency. Now is the time to move ahead with more research and with more funding to ensure that the research continues.

Thank you to Dr. Peter Szatmari and all involved in this collaborative effort. As a Canadian I am very proud of the Canadians who led this research effort and I hope that our federal government shows some heart, and some good sense, and continue to fund autism research.

Funding helped autism discovery

The Gazette

Published: Tuesday, February 20, 2007

News of a breakthrough in understanding the genetics of autism, which was splashed dramatically across the world’s front pages yesterday, provides a precious lesson in the value of research.

The discovery came from a vast sleuthing effort: More than 130 researchers from 50 institutions in eight countries made scans of DNA from 8,000 people in 1,600 families. From all that data, scientists uncovered two new mutations possibly linked to an increased risk of susceptibility to autism, a neurological condition of varying degrees of complexity. The breakthrough should lead, via more accurate diagnostic tests, to earlier, more pertinent therapy.

All those resources were mobilized because of the growing realization that autism is far more widespread than previously thought, touching as many as one child in 165.

Canadians were among the scientists who led the effort. Peter Szatmari, director of the Offord Centre for Child Studies at McMaster Children’s Hospital, is described as setting the groundwork for the international effort that got under way in 2002. Steve Scherer, senior scientist of genetics and genomic biology at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, is a project co-leader.

The international research effort is run by the Autism Genome Project, Canada’s part of which is underwritten by a $6.9-million grant from Genome Canada, primary funder in Canada of genomics and proteomics research.

Every Canadian should be proud this country has contributed to this promising research.

Despite some recent successes, Canada’s investment in scientific research has not been everything it could be. In 2005, 40 prominent scientists criticized the Liberal government’s funding policy, which required scientists seeking federal funding to find matching money elsewhere. The scientists argued scientific excellence alone should be considered, because premature emphasis on commercial application could stifle basic research.

Ottawa has since 1999 pumped more than $7 billion into scientific research – enough to keep top scientists in the country. But that funding could come to an abrupt end once $400 million in grants announced in November by Industry Minister Maxime Bernier runs out.

The dangers of this kind of off-and-on-again approach to funding were explained to The Gazette in 2004 by Sean Taylor, project manager for the Montreal Proteomics Network: “You don’t invest all this money in burgeoning fields like genomics and proteomics, and then just drop it,” he said. For Canada to become a research hub, scientists need time and secure funding, Taylor said.

Alberta, at least, seems to understand that. Last week, it announced it will use money from the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research to try to attract – and keep – “superstar” medical researchers to the province. What a good investment.

February 20, 2007 Posted by | Autism Genome Project, autism spectrum disorder, funding, govenrment, research, Szatmari | Leave a comment