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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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U study narrows in on autism gene

U researchers confirmed a region on a chromosome that may lead to finding a gene for autism, said Hillary Coon, research professor of psychiatry and principal author of the study.

The researchers’ findings were recently published online in the journal Human Heredity and are part of the Utah Autism Research Project.

Coon said the region on chromosome 3 that U researchers identified was also identified in a previous study done on a family in Finland and that confirming previous evidence is rare.

“We are looking for a needle in a haystack,” Coon said. “Even if we do find a gene, there may be genes in other regions.”

William McMahon, principal investigator on the Utah Autism Research Project, said that one of the goals of the Autism Research Project is to find “triggers and timing” for autism because little is known about the disease and why it occurs.

Autism is a neurobehavioral disorder that involves deficits in social interaction, communication and repeated behaviors.

“It is best described as a spectrum of disorders, but we haven’t been able to dissect disorders out of the spectrum as of now,” McMahon said.

The U’s long history of research in autism has led to multiple advancements in finding biological evidence of the disease, McMahon said.

“The U helped the field of autism focus more on genetics; we’re looking at genes, immune components and neuroimaging,” McMahon said.

McMahon is also a participant in the National Children’s Study, which looks at environmental factors of diseases such as autism.

The disease could be purely genetic, McMahon said, but it will take studying a greater number of families to know for sure.

U researchers are continually looking for families with one or more children with autism, and each case may lead to more interesting information about possible genes, Coon said.

The U autism researchers are currently working with a grant from the National Institute of Health to continue autism studies until May 2007.

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