As Autism Becomes More Prevalent, Researchers Are Finding Answers3
Reported by Kacie Whaley
In March, CNN reported that 1 out of 68 children in the United States have an autism spectrum disorder. This is a 30 percent increase from just two years ago, when 1 in 88 children had some form of autism. With the increase in this development disorder that can affect a person’s social and communication skills, people are looking for answers for what is causing this disorder and how it can be prevented. Now, with a recent discovery in genetic mutation, scientists may be closer than ever to finding the root of different forms of autism.
Researchers from thirteen institutions around the world did a study on a group of autistic children and found that those with a genetic mutation in the CHD8 gene— also known as the ‘chromodomain helicase DNA binding protein 8’— are very likely to have a kind of autism that is coupled with gastrointestinal disorders, causing a larger head and wide-set eyes.
In the study, 6,176 kids with an autistic spectrum disorder were tested, and 15 of those children were found to have a mutation in their CHD8 gene, according to Science Daily. All 15 had similarities in facial characteristics, as well as issues with sleep disturbance and gastrointestinal problems.
To confirm their discovery, scientists collaborated with Duke University researchers who conduct studies on zebra fish. The researchers disturbed the CHD8 gene in the fish, and the fish developed large heads and wide-set eyes. Then, when researchers fed the fish, they had difficulty digesting the food.
“This will be a game changer in the way scientists are researching autism,” said Raphael Bernier, the lead author and UW associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the clinical director of the Autism Center at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Less than half of children with autism will have a CHD8 mutation, which will disrupt protein creation. Even so, Bernier said that this scientific break-through could uncover many more genetic mutations. It could also lead to genetic testing being offered to families as a way to help them treat their child’s form of autism.