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UT Houston, Jamaica researchers launch autism study
Date:9/29/2009

HOUSTON(Sept. 29, 2009)-Researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and the University of the West Indies have joined forces to launch a study of Jamaican children that they hope will unlock the secrets of how genetics and environment may interact to cause autism spectrum disorders.

The research, funded with a two-year, $300,000 exploratory grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and Fogarty International Center, will train Jamaican health professionals in the most current autism diagnostics; identify an initial sample of Jamaican children ages 3 to 8 who have an autism spectrum disorder; and test the children for specific genes that may interact with exposure to toxins that could affect their neurodevelopment.

"This study will help us identify if autism is related to gene-environment interaction," said Mohammad Hossein Rahbar, Ph.D., principal investigator and professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at The University of Texas School of Public Health. "Jamaica has a stable population, which can help us get a better estimate of the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders linked to environmental causes. In addition, over 90 percent of the population is of African descent, which means less variation in genetics."

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are complex, neurodevelopmental and behavioral disorders characterized by impairments in social interaction and communication and repetitive, sometimes obsessive, behaviors. According to the NICHD, a conservative estimate is that one in every 1,000 children has an autism disorder. The national group Autism Speaks puts the number at 1 in 150.

The study will enroll 150 children with autistic disorders from the existing Jamaican ASD database established by Maureen Samms-Vaughan, M.D., Ph.D., principal investigator of the University of the West Indies subcontract. Another group of 150 age- and sex-matched children will be
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Contact: Deborah Lake
deborah.m.lake@uth.tmc.edu
713-500-3304
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
Source:Eurekalert

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