Thursday, March 08, 2007

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."

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.

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