BOSTON, Mass. (May 5, 2005) - Some 700 scientists from around the world who gathered in Boston this week shared exciting advances in understanding the causes of and treatments for autism disorders, which affect up to one of every 166 people. Autism is a brain disorder that can severely impair a child's communication and social skills, leaving them in apparent isolation from their families and communities.
"A critical mass of scientists and the new tools of molecular biology are deepening our understanding of autism at a breathtaking pace," said Helen Tager-Flusberg, chair of the conference and a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine. "The immune system, behavior, genetics, and the environment all factor in to this complex and devastating disease. We are putting the pieces together."
Among the advances reported by scientists were:
- Early Detection: Identification of both potential biological markers in the blood (biomarkers) and behaviors that will allow scientists and physicians to identify autism in infants, and thus initiate early treatment.
- Immune System: Strong evidence that autism may be a disorder involving the immune system as well as a disorder of the brain.
- Genetics: Studies homed in on chromosomal regions implicated in autism. Exciting results came from looking at autistic-like traits.
- Environment: Scientists documented overlap between environmentally responsive genes and genes associated with autism, and found evidence into the potential role of environmental toxins such as PCBs.
Scientists reported their findings at the 4th International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR). The UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute, Cure Autism Now, and the National Alliance for Autism Research initiated the annual conference, which is the most extensive exploration of research advances in autism.
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