NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health plan to use a $450,000 grant from Autism Speaks to fund research into genetic and environmental interactions that might be involved in autism, the non-profit organization said today.
The three-year study will examine gene-environment interactions and DNA methylation across the entire genome of children who are affected by autism spectrum disorder, and will home in on environmental influences during pregnancy, birth, and early childhood.
Johns Hopkins epidemiologist Daniele Fallin was the first recipient of the new Philip and Faith Geier Autism Research Grants in Environmental Sciences, which will be awarded annually.
Autism cannot be reliably detected before children are one year old, but research has suggested that it is caused by developmental problems caused by a mix of genetic and environmental influences.
Fallin's research team will examine changes in DNA methylation that may be related to environmental conditions during gestation, birth, and childhood, with the aim of eventually identifying avoidable risks and to provide guidance for earlier diagnosis and improved treatments.
The researchers will investigate these epigenetic changes in 300 children with ASD and compare them to 300 children without ASD.
"Epigenetics may well be the mechanism by which this interaction occurs," Fallin said in a statement. "It is also the area of research that brings together scientists who study autism's genetics with those who study environmental influences. It is so vitally important for autism science that we have these two groups working together."