U Joins Nationwide Autism Study

%28Hilary+Coon%2C+Ph.D.+Professor+of+phychiatry+and+genetic+epidemiology+at+the+Univeristy+of+Utah.+%E2%80%94+Courtesy+of+Univeristy+of+Utah+Health+Care%29

(Hilary Coon, Ph.D. Professor of phychiatry and genetic epidemiology at the Univeristy of Utah. — Courtesy of Univeristy of Utah Health Care)

(Hilary Coon, Ph.D. Professor of phychiatry and genetic epidemiology at the Univeristy of Utah. — Courtesy of Univeristy of Utah Health Care)
(Hilary Coon, Ph.D. Professor of phychiatry and genetic epidemiology at the U. — Courtesy of Univeristy of Utah Health Care)

 
The U recently joined the Autism Sequencing Consortium study in order to expand autism research.
Hilary Coon, a professor of psychiatry and genetic epidemiology, said conditions for autism are dependent on slight to intense differences in specific genes.
The U has taken a step forward by contributing to the ASC study. ASC is a study specific to listing gene characteristics found in autism. The U uses it to study autism in Utah families. This study not only proves the complexity of autism disorders, but contributes to a national effort in creating a list of all genetic disorders.
“We have been working on studying families with autism disorders for a long time,” Coon said. “There are many researchers at the university who are working on various aspects of autism. Our specific project is looking at genetic rick factors.”
Coon said researchers initially thought autism was focused on a certain series of genes. This knowledge has changed because of recent research by ASC. Coon said research has found that the autism spectrum is immense and consists of thousands of genes. Some genes may vary in degree when it comes to the risk of them carrying a disorder.
For example, some genes might even have a mutation, but the mutation is considered a part of “variable penetrance,” Coon said.
This means the gene is affected, but not active, so the person with it may or may not actually be on the autism spectrum. Therefore, the autism spectrum has only increased in size. To researchers, genes involved have only increased in their complexity.
ASC studies entire families who have members on the autistic spectrum. Coon said 130 families have already been involved in the study in Utah.
“This study has thousands of families,” Coon said. “That’s one of the reasons that we are starting to be really successful. Researchers are starting to realize that we need to share resources — these are really complicated problems.”
Sullivan Hughes, a sophomore in biology, said he thinks the study is important.
“This study is an amazing opportunity for those studying autism and people who have a disorder,” Sullivan said. “It will give back so much to the research field, especially at the U.”
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