Primary Children’s Hospital begins disease study

“Autism means you’re special,” 8-year-old Lillie Christensen said at the National Children’s Study News Briefing on Friday.

She and her mother, Sara Christensen, attended the press conference at Primary Children’s Medical Center to “put a face” on a new study that will look at the causes of diseases such as autism.

Lillie was diagnosed at age two, and although she is healthy and happy, she is, like many other children, affected by autism. Common traits of autistic children include difficulty communicating and forming social relationships.

“Can you imagine how frustrating it would be for parents and doctors to not know how to cure autism?” Sara Christensen said.

The Christensen family hopes that with the National Children’s Study, it will be able to learn more about Lillie’s condition and find out whether autism is genetic or environmental. Both factors will be studied by doctors at the U as well as multiple other “vanguard sites” nationwide.

“This study is a wonderful example of two of our best assets coming together: our children and our intellectual resources at the U,” said Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.

Lillie charmed Huntsman when she spontaneously came over in the middle of the press conference and sat on his lap.

This study will “make lives in our community better,” Huntsman said.

The study will also focus on why children in the study have other conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Approximately 1,250 children from Salt Lake County will be followed for the Children’s Study and the study will use “new technology, different from what we had only five years ago,” said Joseph Horton, chief executive officer of Primary Children’s Medical Center.

“I have already received a gift today from Lillie” Horton said. “She came over to me and whispered ‘I feel happy in my heart.'”

The briefing concluded with Lillie standing up and taking a bow, and after getting a pack of gum out of her mom’s purse, she proceeded, with a smile, to hand a piece to everyone in the front row. The study will follow 100,000 children from pre-birth or birth to age 21, and while the study won’t officially begin until 2007, U doctors are expecting results as early as 2009.

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