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UC Davis Launches Genomics Lab to Detect Autism Biomarkers

NEW YORK, Jan 2 – The University of California-Davis is launching a $1 million neurodevelopmental genomics laboratory in its M.I.N.D. Institute to study the genetic profiles of children who are vulnerable to autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders, the University announced Tuesday.

" Our goal is to develop a diagnostic test within five years to accurately identify those newborns who are likely to develop autism,” David Amaral, research director of the M.I.N.D. Institute, said in a statement. “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."

Paul Hagerman, a physician and molecular biologist, will lead the biomarkers research, and assistant professor of pathology Jeffrey Gregg will operate the new lab.

The MIND Institute will house this laboratory when its research labs open next year. Meanwhile, the genomics lab will operate out of the UC-Davis Cancer Center.

Scientists suspect genes play a key role in the development of autism, but it is not clear whether genes alone can cause the disorder or whether an interaction of genes and environmental factors such as vaccinations, food allergies and environmental toxins is necessary to trigger autism.

The research aims to understand the specific way that genes and other factors interact in causing this disease.

" If we are able to predict which children are threatened by specific life events, we can take special precautions to limit their exposures," Amaral said in a statement. " We could also begin therapeutic interventions long before any serious symptoms are observed. In this way we would hope to diminish or eliminate the possibilities of certain children developing autism."

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