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Houston: Baylor College searches for elusive mutating autism genes while 1/54 have autism

May 28, 2021, KHOU11 TV, Houston, TX: 1 in 54 kids diagnosed with Autism, Baylor researchers studying why

More and more children are being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and researchers are trying to figure out why. Now, researchers at Baylor College of Medicine say they have identified genes linked to autism that predicts patients' IQ. This could be a big step forward in figuring out how to identify and treat ASD. “It affects a surprisingly large number of children,” said Dr. Olivier Lichtarge, professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine. According to Dr. Lichtarge, 1 in 54 children are now diagnosed with autism, about 2 percent. “It is a rising fraction for reasons we do not understand," Dr. Lichtarge said. Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder. It can affect speech, social interactions and the ability to communicate. Doctors are not sure what causes it.

“The basis of autism is not quite clear. It’s obviously genetic. It also may have an environmental interplay," Dr. Lichtarge said. Even though it is genetic, autism is not always hereditary. Autism is known as a complex disorder, meaning it is not caused by just one gene mutation, but several, across several genes. That is why figuring it all out has been tricky.

“You can’t fix the problem if you don’t know where it lies,” Dr. Lichtarge said.

But now a promising step forward: Dr. Lichtarge and his team say they have identified harmful mutations in a particular set of genes linked to autism.

“For autism, in particular, we were able to identify a particular set of genes," Dr. Lichtarge said. "Now that we have those genes, we can start looking at patients and profiling them. And then we can hopefully try to learn, as we classify those patients, which set of different symptoms they have. Which patients are more responsive to therapy.” Dr. Lichtarge said this is key in figuring out types and subtypes of autism so scientists can develop the best treatments. “There is every reason to hope that we can understand it better in the near future," he said. According to the CDC, “ASD begins before the age of 3 years and can last throughout a person’s life, although symptoms may improve over time. Some children show ASD symptoms within the first 12 months of life. In others, symptoms may not show up until 24 months or later. Some children with ASD gain new skills and meet developmental milestones, until around 18 to 24 months of age and then they stop gaining new skills, or they lose the skills they once had.”

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