UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute launches new program to identify biomarkers for autism and other disorders

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.)-- The UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute is allocating $1 million to develop a new neurodevelopmental genomics laboratory for the study of biomarkers and other early warning signs of autism and neurodevelopmental disorders. (M.I.N.D. stands for the Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders.) Using the power of the human genome project, the lab aims to identify a genetic profile, or 'fingerprint', of those children who may be vulnerable to autism.

The new laboratory is being developed, in part, in response to last year's landmark research on biomarkers, which was funded by the M.I.N.D. Institute and conducted by the California Birth Defects Monitoring Foundation. This research showed that certain proteins in blood samples taken from babies just hours old could predict which children would later develop autism or mental retardation.

"It is the highest priority of the M.I.N.D. Institutes research program to continue this important research on biomarkers," said David G. Amaral, research director of the M.I.N.D. Institute. "Our goal is to develop a diagnostic test within five years to accurately identify those newborns who are likely to develop autism. Identification of susceptible children is the first step to prevention of full-blown autism, and if we can prevent even 10 percent of the new cases of autism, that will be a major accomplishment."

Autism is a debilitating neurodevelopmental disorder that appears to be on the rise in California and throughout the country. In 1999 alone, more than 2,000 children with severe autism were added to the roles of the Department of Developmental Services (DDS). In addition to the devastating effect this disorder has on families with an autistic child, the DDS estimates that the lifetime cost of care for each of these children is over $2 million.

While the cause of autism is unknown, substantial evidence points to a genetic component. Additional research is needed to determine whether

Contact: Carole Gan
University of California, Davis - Health System

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