October 9, 2009

Researchers find new gene implicated in autism

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Researchers, including some from the University of Utah, have found additional strong evidence that a susceptibility to autism is hereditary. While autism has long been known to run in some families, it’s been less clear how the complex disorder may be inherited. More than 100 genes have been suspected of involvement in the condition, which causes a spectrum of communication disorders, social attachment problems, and repetitive behaviors, reports Lisa Rosetta of the Salt Lake Tribune.

 In a large studied published in Nature this week, researchers found multiple rare mutations near a gene that codes for a protein involved in neuron development.

“Anytime a gene is implicated in really large sample like this, it’s of more interest because we have more confidence that it’s real,” Hilary Coon one of the co-authors of the study told the Salt Lake Tribune.

The study looked at 1,031 families that included 1,553 children with autism.

Autism is a highly complex disorder, and its causes and treatments have been widely debated over the years. One of the most common and effective treatments for it is a form of intensive, behavior-based therapy that few insurers will cover. Findings such as the one this week should make it harder for insurance companies to argue that autism is not a medical condition.

During the 2009 Legislative session, Utah Republican Sen. Howard Stephenson sponsored a bill called “Clay’s Law” that would have mandated insurance coverage for autism. But the bill died for lack of a vote before the session ended.

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