Health Team

DNA may provide clues to cause of autism

Posted January 14, 2008
Updated February 26, 2009

A major new discovery may help scientists figure what causes autism, which is diagnosed in one of every 150 children, doctors say.

The answer might come from looking deep within the human genome, said geneticist Dr. David Miller, with Children's Hospital in Boston.

Although all humans are born with 23 pairs of chromosomes, scientists found a mutation in a small number of autistic children. In one particular chromosome, these children were either missing or had too much DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid.

"It would be like a recipe where if you added twice as much salt or half as much salt, and it changes how the recipe turns out, because everything is in a delicate balance, especially inside the human brain," Miller.

How this mutation might lead to autism is still unknown. Scientists must still figure out the mutation's cause and if it is present in all or just a few autistic children.

In the near future, however, scientists hope to be able to use technology to diagnose children with autism at an early age. Pinpointing this mutation might be one clue in the diagnosis, Miller said.

"If it's a puzzle that has 100 pieces, this is one piece," Miller said.

Although a mercury-based preservative was widely believed to cause autism, a study released last week showed that the autism rate in children continued to rise after the preservative was removed in 2001.

The preservative has still been used in some flu shots, but the study adds to existing evidence that argues against linking vaccines to autism.

Peter and Elizabeth Bell, the parents of an autistic boy, said the discovery of the genetic mutation raises their hopes for their son's future.

"There's a palpable sense within the community that something significant is going to break," Peter Bell said. He works for Autism Speaks, a group that helped with the research that found the mutation.

"There is this search and this need to find an answer for what made this happen," Elizabeth Bell said.


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  • The Hammer Jan 17, 2008

    4. The crime here is not the mistake, it's the coverup. The coverup to protect careers and money from lawsuits. Remember Sen. Bill Frist? He was a Senate majority leader from Tn. Every 15 minutes it seemed he would stick a rider in a bill that denied these kids their right to sue the drug companies over this issue.

    If we had people of integrity at the CDC and in Congress here's what should have happened. The problem should have been identifies and fully explained. If there were crimes committed the people involved should have been punished. Monies from the drug companies as well as government money should have been devoted to research and millions of children would be getting the help they need right now. But no, we got a coverup.

    So, if you are stupid enough to think that mercury is not a problem, go get some and inject it at the same levels our children were exposed to (you have an advantage your nervous system is fully developed). Prove your point and then maybe we'll talk.

  • The Hammer Jan 17, 2008

    "The link to mercury is tenuous."
    With all due respect you don't know what you're talking about. If you just, I say just listen to the medical establishment one might come to this conclusion. But it doesn't make sense on it's face.
    We're talking about perhaps the most deadly heavy metal neurotoxin known to man and some people seem to think it's just a little contamination by a benign element - no big deal. Well it is a big deal.
    1.Autism is a genetic disorder, there is no such thing as a genetic epidemic: therefore, the cause must be environmental.
    2. The CDC is well aware of what happened and they've done everything in their power to cover it up. For example, farming out records etc. so they would be beyond the Freedom of Information Act.
    3. Certain procedures developed by some very brave Doctors (bucking the medical establishment) have had excellent results treating mercury poisoning (autism)and bringing some of these kids back (see Jenny McCarthy on Oprah).

  • farkle80 Jan 16, 2008

    The link to mercury is tenuous. Please read more on the subject.

  • Cable Jan 15, 2008

    gdail I could not have said it better myself. Im all for vaccines aslong as it has no toxic metals and that you dont pump a new born full of dead viris's when the baby has no defense against them. Spread out the vaccines over a period of time not all at once.

  • Dr. Dataclerk Jan 15, 2008

    It would be great if a cure could be found for autism. I have twin cousins (boy and girl) six years old that have it. I know it would be more than appreciated by the parents.

  • The Hammer Jan 15, 2008

    "Although a mercury-based preservative was widely believed to cause autism, a study released last week showed that the autism rate in children continued to rise after the preservative was removed in 2001."

    What? Mercury wasn't removed in 2001. Existing supplies stayed on the shelf and were used up. I'm sure there are mercury laced vaccinations out there right now. Furthermore, the flu vaccination has the mercury preservative thimerosal, or at least it did. Why was this? Simple. The CDC and others did not want the autism rates to drop like a rock so they fixed it where the drop off would be gradual. After all it was an honest mistake to pump 80 times the adult tolerance for mercury into the developing nervous systems of new born babies. Why destroy careers over good people doing good work? What's done is done so what if they caused a 6000 percent increase in autism and millions of families are impacted. Tough.

  • whatelseisnew Jan 14, 2008

    How about the lead paint China has been supplying in the toys? Is there a connection between the surge in autism and the timing of the switch by toy companies to using China? Every baby I have every seen puts things in there mouths for extended periods of time.