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Grandma study

In search of genetic clues regarding autism spectrum disorder, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are launching a study focused on grandmothers. Autism has a strong genetic basis, and rates of the disorder may be higher in the grandchildren of women who had at least one child with an autism spectrum disorder than in the population as a whole. To test that hypothesis, the researchers plan to recruit a minimum of 500 grandmothers and soon-to-be grandmothers to complete questionnaires about their own children with autism, their other biological children and their biological grandchildren. The researchers want to better understand how to support families and help them understand the odds that some of their children may inherit the disorder.

AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS HAVE A STRONG GENETIC COMPONENT, AND RESEARCHERS AT WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE IN ST. LOUIS ARE SURVEYING GRANDMOTHERS TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT HOW IT’S PASSED DOWN IN FAMILIES. THE RESEARCHERS ARE RECRUITING WOMEN WHO HAD AT LEAST ONE CHILD WITH AUTISM, AND WHO NOW HAVE GRANDCHILDREN, TO SEE HOW RISK FOR THE DISORDER MAY BE PASSED THROUGH THE GENERATIONS. JIM DRYDEN HAS MORE…

ALTHOUGH PEOPLE WITH SERIOUS AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER DON’T OFTEN HAVE CHILDREN THEMSELVES, SCIENTISTS KNOW THAT GENETICS PLAYS A BIG ROLE IN THE DISORDER. CURRENTLY, EXPERTS ESTIMATE THAT ABOUT ONE IN 68 CHILDREN WILL BE BORN WITH AN AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER. TO LEARN ABOUT GENETIC RISKS, RESEARCHERS HAVE STUDIED PARENTS AND SIBLINGS OF THE KIDS WHO HAVE THE DISORDER, AND NOW, THEY’RE RECRUITING GRANDMOTHERS TO LEARN EVEN MORE. WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY CHILD PSYCHIATRIST NATASHA MARRUS.

(act) :18 o/c biological grandmothers

The project is called the Second Generation Survey Project. We’re

recruiting women who are the biological mothers of a child with an

autism spectrum disorder, but who also have other children, who

themselves did not necessarily have autism, and who now are

biological grandmothers.

THE HYPOTHESIS IS THAT IN FAMILIES WHERE AT LEAST ONE CHILD HAD AN AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER, THERE MAY BE A GREATER RISK OF AUTISM IN SUBSEQUENT GENERATIONS, EVEN IF THE PARENTS OF THOSE CHILDREN AREN’T THE FAMILY MEMBERS WHO HAD BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH AUTISM. BY SURVEYING GRANDMOTHERS ABOUT THEIR GRANDKIDS, MARRUS AND HER COLLEAGUES HOPE TO LEARN WHETHER THAT THAT’S TRUE.

(act) :11 o/c be there

We’re curious to see what is the prevalence of autism in that

next generation so that we can better understand how to support

families, so they understand the risk that may be there.

ONE KEY ASPECT OF AUTISM IS THAT ALTHOUGH THE INCIDENCE OF DISORDERS SEEMS TO BE INCREASING THROUGHOUT THE POPULATION, THE PROBLEM IS STILL MUCH MORE LIKELY TO AFFECT BOYS THAN GIRLS. HOWEVER, GIRLS WITH A FAMILY HISTORY OF AUTISM MAY STILL BE AT A HIGHER RISK OF HAVING A CHILD OF THEIR OWN WHO HAS AUTISM.

(act) :18 o/c general population

Girls, as many people know, are less likely to develop autism

themselves, however, it’s thought that they may carry the genetic

susceptibility to autism, which could then be passed on, to male

children in particular, at rates higher than would be expected in

the general population.

AND SHE SAYS ALTHOUGH THERE ARE SOME ENVIRONMENTAL RISK FACTORS, AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER MAINLY IS INHERITED.

(act) :12 o/c in families

So there is a strong genetic basis for autism — this isn’t to

say that the environment doesn’t matter, but a lot of what

contributes to autism is thought to be in genes — which,

therefore, means that it can run in families.

MARRUS SAYS MANY RESEARCHERS BELIEVE AUTISM RISK CAN BE MASKED, PARTICULARLY IN GIRLS, AND THEN PASSED ON WHEN THOSE GIRLS GROW UP AND HAVE KIDS OF THEIR OWN.

(act) :20 o/c as treatments

One of the very active areas of research is to figure out what

the level of this risk is and the biology that underlies this

risk because if we understand the biology that protects girls

from autism, then we might get some insights and clues into

markers that could help with diagnoses, as well as treatments.

ONE WAY TO FIGURE THAT OUT, SAYS MARRUS, IS TO ASK GRANDMOTHERS TO HELP EVALUATE THEIR GRANDKIDS, AND THAT’S WHAT THE RESEARCH TEAM IS DOING, RECRUITING AT LEAST 500 GRANDMOTHERS WHO HAD AT LEAST ONE CHILD WHO HAD AUTISM. I’M JIM DRYDEN…

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