Monday, August 13, 2007

Autism Research - Autism's Environmental Triggers

The paradigm shift taking place in autism research is well underway and it is intensifying with the announcements of funding of several autism research centers in the United States. The focus of much current research is to find the environmental factors that may trigger the onset of autism in genetically vulnerable children.

Specific pesticides have recently been identified as possible triggers in some cases. But research into environmental factors as causes of autism has been stalled by the fallout from the thimerosal debate as researchers feared becoming marginalized in their careers if they discussed environmental issues. Now the research into possible environmental causes or triggering factors is moving ahead. And, in a truly revolutionary development, researchers are even listening to parents, a fact which will not sit well with Neurodiversity ideologues:

She [Nancy Duly, autism mother] was speaking at a press conference at the University of California at Davis announcing $7.5 million in new federal funding, including about $2 million for a groundbreaking study that seeks to track, earlier and more closely than before, potential environmental triggers for autism -- beginning in the womb.

As the ranks of children diagnosed with autism grow, researchers are focusing more on such efforts. They are casting an ever-widening net to try to detect possible environmental factors -- such as chemicals or infections -- that could be interacting with genetic risk factors.

Money is beginning to stream toward researchers who are on that trail, supporting a new wave of studies.

"Environmental research will be a much bigger field going forward," said Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health. "A lot of parents have been telling us about their concerns; now we're listening very closely."

Until recently, about 90 percent of autism research has focused on genetics, and only perhaps 10 percent on environmental factors, said Dr. Gary Goldstein, chairman of the scientific board of Autism Speaks, a national research and advocacy group. In the coming years, he expects the ratio to be 1 to 1.

Dr. Martha Herbert, a Harvard neuroscientist and Massachusetts General Hospital neurologist, said a few years ago, autism researchers would be marginalized if they talked about environmental factors. But now, "any major article or proposal concerning the causes of autism is coming to be considered incomplete if it doesn't talk about a potential role of environmental factors."

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