Genetic Link To Autism Found, Scientist Pooh-poohs Epidemic

By Matthew Flitton in the Standard-Examiner, Salt Lake City.

Researchers at Utah State University have found a group of genes linked to the occurrence of autism. The study, which will be published in this month’s issue of Human
Immunology, identifies an allele that migrates with the disease through
families. The finding may help in treating the disorder.

“If they (professionals) can catch them (children with autism) early, they can take them from under-performers to mainstream students in school,” said Anthony R. Torres, director in the immunogenetics laboratory in the Center for Persons with Disabilities at USU. The genes are found on an area of the sixth chromosome known as human leukocyte antigens, or HLA. Torres said the tendency toward autism is inherited from the father. “It tells us that autism has an immune component,” he said.

Researchers have believed for quite some time that autism may be caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. The new findings point in the same direction. “We can keep looking at the immune system in autism,” Torres said, According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism occurs in at least one in 500 people and is four times more common in males than females. Torres said reported incidents are rising and estimates the number to be closer to six people out of every 1,000. But he said the higher number doesn’t indicate an autism epidemic. “That’s due to better diagnostic criteria,” he said. Torres said USU has been studying autism for 16 or 17 years.

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