Thursday, October 01, 2009

Autism Research Funding: It's Still Gotta Be Genetic

Even the IACC has acknowledged in its public statements that the emerging view of autism causation is that autism likely results from the interaction of genetic, biological and environmental factors. Although there have been calls for more funding of environmental based autism research of late the "it's gotta be genetic" paradigm identified by Teresa Binstock in 1999 still appears to be holding sway over funding of autism research.

As reported in the LA Times yesterday $4.5 million from the US government stimulus funding will go toward one study by researchers at Harvard University and Children's Hospital Boston involving the sequencing of genomes of at least 85 people diagnosed with autism "in a bid to tease out the genetic basis for some cases of the neuropsychiatric disorder". As long as autism research funding is restricted to genetic focused research only the genetic bases of autism will be found. Possible environmental causes and triggers of autism will remain unknown or unconfirmed.

Information concerning the development of autism by children living in close proximity to power plants and steel mills, the role of toxic plastic materials and other potential environmental causes and triggers of autism will never be determined with any degree of certainty if funding continues to be directed towards genetic based autism research by as much as 20 to 1 compared to environmental based autism research. And of course, if funding for an observational study comparing autism rates in existing vaccinated and unvaccinated populations is not provided an informed understanding of the possible role of vaccines in causing or triggering autism will not emerge. The Offit extremists will continue to maintain that there is no evidence to support a vaccine-autism connection and the vaccine- autism war will continue.

Dr. Bernadine Healy, Dr. Jon Poling, Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, and others who have called for more environmentally focused research of autism causes, do not appear to be heard by those who call the shots.

The more things change the more they remain the same.

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Christine said...

I ask respectfully, if autism is genetic do we not need to find out what genes are compromised first before we can figure out how environmental factors can affect those genes? I might be totally off base here and I am wondering what others think.

Unknown said...


Your question is a reasonable one. I do not mean to suggest that genetic autism research should not be conducted. What concerns me is the focus on genetic research to the exclusion of environmental research.

I don't think that we wait until the human genome is mapped before we search for environmental causes or triggers of other disorders or diseases.

We know today that asbestos and tobacco cause serious damage to our bodies. I assume that some people are more susceptible, because of their genetic makeup, than others to the damage from these products.

My grandfather smoked all his life and never developed lung cancer. He died in his early 80's as a result of being struck by a motor vehicle while riding his bicycle. Other people who smoke much less than he did developed lung cancer. I believe his genetic disposition was such that he was resistant but there is no doubt today that in many people tobacco causes lung cancer.

By all means continue the genetic research of autism but don't fund it at the 20 to 1 rate compared to environmental autism research.

Thank you for your comment.

Christine said...

Hi Harold,

Thank you for the response and sharing information about your family. You made very valid points that should not be ignored.

At this time I believe autism is genetic with environmental triggers. What I am still trying to rationalize is the imbalance of genetic vs environmental research studies. One question I have asked that has not been soundly answered.
Perhaps because it does not make sense.

I am not sure if you have seen this article yet. One of my hopes is the researchers will include all levels of functioning in the research. In my opinion those at the lower functioning end of the spectrum are very understudied.

Unknown said...

I think the problem is very complex. We do not even know if autisim exist. What I mean is that this diagnosis can include a variety of problems, which might have similar manifestations. If this is the case, it may be that they all also have different origins. I agree that research should not exclude any options out.

Anonymous said...

Really Christine? You think there is such a thing as a genetic epidemic where essentially 1 out of 150 kids (more in some areas) has a specific neurological disorder? One that has increased unbelievably in the past 10-20 years? I really wonder how parents fall for this. Yeah, let's keep wasting time and money looking for that gene that doesn't exist. Sad.

Christine said...

Anonymous, I really do not understand your comment. Just to let you know you should update your statistics to 1 in 100 as per the CDC. I am asking a serious question, what do you think is causing autism? I did not say anything about a genetic epidemic either. I am not falling for anything but asking reasonable questions. Ones you might not be equipped to answer.

Anonymous said...

Christine-you clearly indicate that you want to find out what genes are compromised before we can figure out how environmental factors may affect those genes. No genes dear. Clearly damage from vaccines directly affecting the brain is what's driving the autism epidemic but people will just keep researching to look for "genetic problems" with the children that can set them up for environmental insults. As I stated, you keep hanging your hat on that theory and you'll be asking the same question 20 years from now instead of looking at the obvious.

And in NJ the rates are 1 in 64 not 1 in 100 so why don't you do your research. Rates can vary in certain places. I was giving an estimate.

Christine said...

If vaccines are to blame and I am not convinced they are then why do some people have autism and some do not and with varying severity? Can you please point me in the direction of how you came to this conclusion? I am not agreeing nor disagreeing with your statement but until solid research is done and yes research into vaccines how can you be so sure? How long do you think autism has been around?

Anonymous said...

Christine there is a lot of information regarding "why isn't every kid autistic then"? on Age Of Autism. Go look there. And the old excuse "autism has been around a long time" is ridiculous. It is quite clear that as the number of vaccinations increased so has autism. Autism was quite rare in the 50's, 60's and 70's and even into the 80's UNTIL the number of vaccines given to children increased dramatically.