A new national DNA databank will help scientists identify new genes involved in autism. The 11-center effort, including scientists in the Department of Human Genetics at Emory University School of Medicine, will help differentiate subtypes of autism that have different genetic causes.
These findings will lead to the development of better diagnostic tests and potential new treatments, says Christa Lese Martin, PhD, Emory assistant professor of human genetics and principal investigator of the databank project at Emory. Opal Ousley, PhD, is co-principal investigator.
The new databank, funded by a $10 million grant from the Simons Foundation based in New York City, will collect about 3,000 samples over a three-year period from cases of "sporadic" or "simplex" autism, in which only one child in a family is affected. Most cases of autism are sporadic, rather than familial, and scientists believe the genes involved could be different from those associated with familial cases.
Emory scientists are also part of the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE), a national DNA data banking effort that has collected more than 1,000 samples from cases of familial autism, in which two or more children in a family are affected.
"It is clear that autism is complex and does not have a single cause," says Dr. Martin. "We already know a few genetic causes of autism, and finding more will greatly enhance our understanding of the underlying biological processes contributing to this neurobehavioral condition. This is the first step towards rational development of new drug and other interventional therapies."
The Emory researchers will work with the Emory Autism Center in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Atlanta's Marcus Institute to gather patient samples for the databank. Dr. Martin and David Ledbetter, PhD, director of Emory's Division of Medical Genetics, are leaders of a major research effort at Emory focused on uncovering the genetic causes of autism.
The new national autism databank will be led by scientists at the University of Michigan. In addition to Emory, samples will be collected by scientists at Yale University, Harvard University, Columbia University, McGill University, Boston University, Washington University, the University of Washington, the University of Illinois-Chicago and the University of California, Los Angeles.