LONDON, Jan 11, 1988 (Reuters)
British scientists have identified the location of a group of genes that are responsible for autism
The paper said the breakthrough could help in the search for a cure and treatment for one of the least understood of mental disorders, which was brought to international attention by the Hollywood film "Rain Man.''
"The landmark research is the first indication that the condition is inherited,'' said the paper. "The research could also herald a pre-natal test for the handicap.''
After a three-year international research project, scientists from Oxford, Newcastle and London will announce in a scientific journal in March that they have located the marker for genes that appear to be responsible for autism, the paper said. The disorder can severely hamper communications and lead to learning difficulties and behavioural problems where a child appears to be trapped in its own world. A tiny minority of sufferers show remarkable talents in specific fields, demonstrated by an autistic man with astonishing arithmetic powers in the movie "Rain Man.''
But few sufferers have such streaks of brilliance, and families must often cope with unruly children and scant medical knowledge about the disorder.
The British research team looked at 99 families from Europe and the United States who had more than one child affected by autism in a search for similarities in their genetic makeup. Only three percent of autistic children have siblings who are also affected.
"We have found something very significant which pushes us to the next stage of analysing these genes,'' the paper quoted Anthony Monaco of Oxford University as saying. But he stressed: "This is phase one in a long process.''
The nature of the genes would provide the key to future medical help for people with autism, he said.
© 1988 REUTERS News Service