Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that remains somewhat shrouded by mystery and continues to baffle parents (and parents-to-be) around the world. The numbers of new childhood autism diagnoses has exploded exponentially, and concern over this epidemic has rightly reached well beyond panic at this point. Everyone wants to know what causes autism, but so far, researchers have had a difficult time pinpointing a singular culprit. Over the years, researchers studying autism have linked the disorder to everything from genes to pesticide to plastics. What’s been missing, though, is a large-scale study that compares a complex range of factors in order to get to the bottom of what actually causes the condition. Kaiser Permanente has announced the beginning of a study into the causes of autism, centering on data from 5,000 Northern California families who have a child with the developmental disorder.
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The rapidly growing numbers of autism cases are what trouble researchers the most. Current government estimates suggest autism occurs in 1 in 68 children, which is about 120% higher than 2002 estimates. For a disorder with no understood roots, that’s a rather alarming rate of increase. Researchers will begin recruiting families in July to conduct the study, which is believed to be the largest genetic research project ever conducted by a health organization into the causes of autism.
“This is an opportunity for the families who are affected by autism to really contribute their expertise and experience and help find answers,” said Lisa Croen, director of the autism program at Kaiser’s Division of Research in Oakland and the study’s principal investigator. The goal of the study is not only to determine what and how autism is caused, but to also develop strategies for prevention and treatment.
The study, to be known as the Autism Family Research Bank, will gather medical, genetic, and environmental information from two biological parents and an autistic child under age 26. A $4.6 million grant from Simons Foundation, a charity that supports a variety of health and social welfare initiatives, will fund the recruiting of families and collection of data. The full study is expected to take three years to complete.
via SF Gate