An autism advocacy and research group has announced that it has completed the first full genome scan for Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

The Autism Consortium, which includes researchers, doctors and families of autistic children, this week announced the completion of its first genome scan of autistic children and their families. The scan is part of its Autism Gene Discovery Project and the group has released all of the data to researchers worldwide through a central database.

The Gene Discovery Project is the first comprehensive genetic association study to examine the entire human genome for clues to autism.

This vitally important research data has been added to the database before it has been published in a scientific journal. Such a sharing of information is extremely rare in the scientific research community and underlines The Autism Consortium's determination to advance the understanding of autism.

The genetic scanning at the heart of the project involved 3,000 genetic samples from individuals with autism or family members of those with autism. The samples were provided by Autism Speaks, another major autism advocacy group. The scan was conducted using the latest high resolution genome scanning technology. Known as, GeneChip® microarray technology, it is capable of analyzing half a million genetic markers simultaneously and performing whole-genome analyses in large populations. Until recently genetic research has often been held back by the time required to analzye the genome of just one subject, thereby limiting study sizes.

Researchers involved with the Gene Discovery project report that they found what they believe may be important new information on the genes involved in autism. Future work will focus on working out how the genetic differences present in autistic individuals actually lead to the symptoms seen in the condition.

Mark Daly, PhD, a Consortium member with the Center for Human Genetic Research at Massachusetts General Hospital said: "We’re releasing raw genotype data so that other qualified researchers can take a look at it even as we’re still beginning our own analysis. Autism Spectrum Disorders are extremely complex and only through collaboration with researchers with many specialized areas of expertise will we gain an understanding of what makes some children susceptible. That’s why we have been committed to providing the data to the research community as fast as we can. The new data will be deposited in the gene bank maintained by AGRE, which, in turn, will make the data available to qualified researchers.”

Thomas Insel, Ph.D., Director of the National Institute for Mental Health commented: “Today’s release of genetic and phenotypic data on autism marks a significant achievement for the autism research community. Progress in finding the causes and cures for autism spectrum disorders rests in large part on improving the rapid access and sharing of data and resources. That the Consortium is making the data available to the scientific community even before its own researchers have fully analyzed the information, demonstrates their high degree of commitment to and leadership in advancing autism research.”


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