Reserchers this week started recruiting for the largest study to date investigating the genetic and environmental factors that may cause autism and other developmental disabilities.
Children between ages two and four with autism and other neuro-developmental disorders as well as children with normal development are being recruited from six different areas around the United States.
A total of 2700 children and their parents will be involved in the Study to Explore Early Development (SEED) which is aiming to shed light on how genetics and environmental factors interact to cause problems with neuro-development that result in the symptoms of autism and other disorders.
The study is being funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and is the largest of its kind to date. Research will be conducted at major medical institutions including the California Department of Public Health, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, and the University of Pennsylvania.
The study is indicative of a switch in focus from purely genetic research to considering the interplay between genetics and potential triggering factors in the environment.
We hope this study will help us learn more about the factors that may lead to autism and other developmental disabilities, and how genes and the environment may affect child development, said Lisa A. Croen, PhD, an epidemiologist with Kaiser Permanente who are working on the study with the California Department of Public Health. The results may also contribute to better services and treatments for affected children and to prevention strategies.
Autism rates are at an all time high with 1 in 150 children being affected according to the CDC. Individual prevalence studies have often put this figure even higher. The disorder affects more boys than girls for reasons not yet fully understood. The autism rate in boys is thought to be around 1 in 100.
We recently reported on new guidelines released by The American Academy of Pediatrics recommending that all children be screened for autism between the ages of 18 and 24 months.
Dr. Marc Lerner, the American Academy of Pediatrics Chair of State Government Affairs for California had this to say: "The new national recommendation for regular screening of children for autism has raised the community awareness of the importance of early diagnosis of autism in order to help children and families"
What is now needed is research like the SEED study to understand the reasons behind the dramatic growth in the diagnosis of autism, which will help us to address prevention and treatment.
The SEED study will investigate factors such as family medical history; genetics; and socio-demographic, lifestyle and environmental factors. Study information will be obtained by conducting interviews and exams, reviewing medical records, collecting cheek swabs, and blood and hair sampling, according to Pilar Bernal, MD, medical director of Kaiser Permanentes Regional Program for Autism Spectrum Disorders.