Autism affects the lives of many Australians. Not only does it affect those diagnosed with this common condition, but also the lives of their families and friends. It’s well-known for the randomness and the severity of its symptoms, which can impair the individual’s ability to form social and family relationships through their inability to act, behave and communicate in ways that are common place for other members of society.
Despite scientists’ understanding of autism as a developmental disability, one that’s strongly affected by genetics, scientists have still find themselves unable to pinpoint a cause for the onset of autism.
A New Strategy
Recently, a very promising ‘genotype-first’ strategy has been pioneered by Evan Eichler from the University of Washington. This strategy is making great headway into the long-running quest for the root cause of autism.
While traditionally the study began with a detailed characterisation of the symptoms the individual exhibits, and then looking for the genes or mutations that are responsible for the onset of autism, Eichler’s unique approach instead focuses on shared genetic variants from multiple patients.
Eichler’s approach has been praise by his peers, many of whom believe it holds the answer to the root cause of autism. A condition that affects far more individuals and their families than most people realise.
A Growing List of Autism Types
The approach that Eichler has taken has yielded some impressive results, including the identification of a growing list of autism subtypes. This entails autistic children with the same genetic mutation displaying a similar array, of developmental symptoms. Eichler says of this momentous discovery, “I feel like we’re kind of where cancer was as a field 20 years ago.”
Just twenty years ago cancer was considered to be a single disease though now we know otherwise. There are now more than 200 types of cancer, each of which has its own genetic and environmental factors that make it unique. Autism is turning out to have many more subtypes than medical professionals originally thought.
“I like to think that this is what we’re doing in the case of autism: we’re helping to unravel this complexity. But we’re doing it with genetics first,” Eichler said.