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Autism Speaks Announces New International Research Collaboration

Autism Speaks, the Rett Syndrome Research Trust and the Medical Research Council, UK Partner to Research the Reversibility of Rett Syndrome

NEW YORK, NY (September 25, 2008) – Autism Speaks, the nation's largest autism advocacy organization, today announced a new international collaboration to study Rett Syndrome. In partnership with the UK's Medical Research Council (MRC) and the newly formed Rett Syndrome Research Trust (RSRT), the group will build on previous studies to explore the correlation of Rett symptoms to specific brain regions. This research will serve as a model for future autism research seeking avenues by which symptoms of developmental disabilities could be mitigated, if not eliminated, even in older patients.

Classic Rett Syndrome affects females almost exclusively, and approximately 1 in 10,000 females are diagnosed per year. Children with Rett Syndrome exhibit symptoms similar to those diagnosed with classic autism, including regression, loss of communication, GI dysfunction, stereotypies, and toe-walking, with the condition's severity ranging from mild to severe, like their counterparts on the spectrum.

Adrian Bird, Ph.D., University of Edinburgh, discovered the Rett gene, MECP2, and will lead the collaborative study, which will build on his seminal report released last year which demonstrated the reversal of Rett Syndrome in an adult mouse by switching on MECP2. Dr. Bird will be collaborating with Nathaniel Heintz, Ph.D., the James and Marilyn Simons Professor of Molecular Biology at Rockefeller University.

"We are extremely pleased to be partnering on this important effort," said Geri Dawson, Chief Science Officer at Autism Speaks. "The exciting recent discoveries by Rett Syndrome researchers have energized the field and this collaboration will help sustain its momentum."

Monica Coenraads, Executive Director of the Trust, describes the work ahead: "Professor Bird's successful reversal established a new paradigm that shows us a very dramatic example of the plasticity of even an adult brain. We now have a glimpse of the extraordinary healing that may be possible not just for Rett Syndrome but other neuropsychiatric disorders as well, such as autism and schizophrenia. This collaborative project will reveal pathways and mechanisms that may inform translational efforts across the autism spectrum. The Rett Syndrome Research Trust is delighted to support this work in partnership with Autism Speaks and the Medical Research Council."

Dr. Rob Buckle, Board Programme Manager for the MRC Neuroscience and Mental Health Board said, "The discovery by the applicants that switching on a 'faulty' gene could correct Rett-like symptoms in an animal model of the disease was a striking and important discovery. MRC is delighted to be involved in this partnership with Autism Speaks to further this exciting research, which holds great promise for the understanding of Rett Syndrome and also for providing new insights into the complexities of autism, a related disorder and priority area for MRC."

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.

Autism Speaks is dedicated to increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders, to funding research into the causes, prevention and treatments for autism, and to advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. It was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Bob Wright is Senior Advisor at Lee Equity Partners and served as vice chairman, General Electric, and chief executive officer of NBC and NBC Universal for more than twenty years. Autism Speaks 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

The Medical Research Council (MRC) is a publicly funded UK organization dedicated to improving human health. It supports research across the entire spectrum of medical sciences, in universities and hospitals, in their own units and institutes in the UK, and in Africa. In the past year MRC supported nearly a billion dollars of research. To learn more about the MRC, please visit

The Rett Syndrome Research Trust is a nonprofit research organization formed in the wake of last year's dramatic pre-clinical reversal of Rett Syndrome symptoms. Our short-term goal is to deliver clinical trials of a novel treatment strategy within five years. The strength of the Trust is based on the guidance of advisors who are largely responsible for the major advances in Rett research over the past decade. To learn more about the Trust please visit