Washington University researchers search for genetic autism risk factors

ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) - An increase in autism spectrum disorder cases prompts Washington University researchers to look for specific, genetic risk factors. They have created a tool for measuring the familial ties connected to autism. It’s called the Second Generation Survey Project.

Diagnosed cases of autism spectrum disorder have increased over the past twenty years. Genetic factors determine who's affected. But gender is "fertile ground" for new research according to Dr. John Constantino, MD, Washington University Medical School, Dept. of Psychiatry.

“There may be very subtle signs that we're trying to understand, that might make young women in a family affected by autism, that might signal that her baby might have a higher risk,” said Dr. John Constantino.

If autism runs in families like the one Dr. Constantino describes then it is quite possible the female is the primary carrier of the mutated gene, he says.

“When males carry autism risk they show it. They have autism. When females have autism risk, they might not show it,”  said Dr. John Constantino.

The Second Generation Project will focus on adults, male or female, whose sibling is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

Dr. Natasha Marrus, MD, Ph.d explains. “ Being able to measure it and predict it is really important so we can identify people who need early intervention to help improve outcomes.”

Autism is primarily a condition which the capacity for social communication, is impaired. Dr. Marrus says the Second Generation Project wants interested parties to complete an on line survey. They want to study at least five hundred families. The first part of the survey helps researchers know how many families out there have autistic adult siblings.

For information about the Second Generation Survey Project see the links below.

Autism Speaks
Washington University Survey