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Autism Speaks and Leading Global Autism Researchers Announce the Launch of Phase 2 of the Autism Genome Project

NEW YORK, NY ( March 1, 2007) -- Autism Speaks, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing awareness of autism and raising money to fund autism research, and an international consortium of researchers, philanthropists, government funding agencies, and participating families today joined together to launch the second phase of the Autism Genome Project (AGP), a global scientific effort to discover the genes responsible for causing the disorder.

The first phase of the multi-million dollar AGP achieved its goal of assembling the largest gene biobank in the world and conducting the most comprehensive genome scan in autism genetics, aimed at mapping susceptibility genes. One third of the DNA and clinical data was provided by the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE). The AGP research was performed by 120 scientists from over 50 institutions representing 19 countries who formed a first-of-its-kind autism genetics consortium. Results from phase 1 were published recently in the distinguished scientific journal Nature Genetics (click here for the related press release).

Phase 2 of the project represents a 14.5 million dollar investment over three years, by Autism Speaks, the British Medical Research Council, the Health Research Board of Ireland, Genome Canada and partners, Canadian Institutes for Health Research, Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center, and the Hilibrand Foundation. This unique combination of international, public and private partners funding a consortium of clinicians and scientists is unprecedented in the field of autism research. The project is also guided by 7 luminaries in the field, forming a strategic Scientific Steering Committee chaired by Professor Peter McGuffin of the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London.

Building on previous success, the coalition of researchers will now apply state-of-art 'gene-chip' technologies to scan the genome for association with new genetic markers, as well as sub-microscopic copy number variations (CNVs) along chromosomes in autism. These findings will guide high-throughput DNA sequencing experiments designed to pinpoint underlying changes in DNA sequences in autism susceptibility genes. The unprecedented statistical power generated by the AGP will ultimately allow researchers to confirm the role of these genes, in autism spectrum disorders.

“The integration of CNV analysis with the more traditional linkage and association approaches is an innovative and potent combination,” said Andy Shih, Autism Speaks chief science officer. “Some of the data will have immediate diagnostic impact, and going forward our new understanding of genetic contributors in autism will give direction to the development of targeted treatment and intervention.”

“The identification of susceptibility genes will provide profound new insight into the basis of autism offering a route to breakthroughs in new treatments in support of families,” said Autism Speaks co-founder and board chair, Bob Wright.

For more information about the Autism Genome Project, click here to visit the AGP page.

ABOUT AUTISM
Autism is a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by extreme behavioral challenges. Autism Spectrum Disorders are diagnosed in one in 150 children in the United States, affecting four times as many boys as girls. The diagnosis of autism has increased tenfold in the last decade. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called autism a national public health crisis whose cause and cure remain unknown.

ABOUT AUTISM SPEAKS
Autism Speaks is dedicated to increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders, to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and cure for autism, and to advocating for the needs of affected families. It was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Bob Wright is Vice Chairman, General Electric, and served as chief executive officer of NBC for more than twenty years. Autism Speaks has merged with both the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) and Cure Autism Now (CAN), bringing together the nation's three leading autism advocacy organizations. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks UK is chaired by Dame Stephanie Shirley and works closely with the U.S. on research and awareness issues. To learn more about Autism Speaks UK, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.uk.