According to Mike Stobbe, of the Associated Press, there has been more than $1 billion has been spent over the past ten years in search of the causes of autism. The research has been skeptical focusing on many different aspects of the causes, for instance, the age of the father, the weight of the mother and how close a child lives to the freeway.
That approach may soon change. The effort has been introduced with a new driving force by a recent federal report that found autism disorders far more common than was previously understood, affecting 1 in 88 children in the U.S. alone. Better diagnosis is largely responsible for the new estimate, but health officials said there may actually be more cases of autism, too.
Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a researcher at the University of California, said “you’re not going to be able to stop this increase,” as long as autism remains a mystery.
A course of studies released during National Autism Awareness Month has offered captivating new information about likely causes. Different studies published in the journal Nature suggests that genetic roots and older fathers play a role in autism as well as another study released in Pediatrics that maternal obesity may also play a role in autism.
It has been a growing public concern for twenty years, as studies have found it to be more and more common. The U.S. government greatly increased funding for research of it in the last decade, and now budgets about $170 million a year through the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
There has been more than $300 million in spending annually over the recent years, funded by more than half dozen foundations and autism advocacy groups. About a third of that has been devoted to finding autism’s causes.
A majority of money for finding a cause has been spent on genetics, which so far experts believe can account for roughly 20 percent of cases. The earliest success was in the early 1990s and involved the discovery of the genetic base of Fragile X syndrome, a scarce condition that accounts for just a small percentage of autism cases but is the most common form of inherited intellectual disability in boys.
The focus on genetics has been assisted by dramatic improvements in gene mapping as well as the bioengineering of mice with autism symptoms. Dozens of risk genes have been identified, and a half-dozen drug companies are said to be working on developing new treatments.
“We’ve made some very significant progress on the genetics end of this search,” said Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health.
Many researchers are conducting different studies including medications, illnesses and nutritional deficiencies during pregnancy, pollutants, and even brain scans in sibling to find a common link. As study findings are reported, researchers are hoping to see repetition — confirmation, that is — that certain factors are playing significant roles.
Coleen Boyle, a CDC official overseeing research into children’s developmental disabilities: said, “We’re at the infancy of just understanding how these factors relate to autism.”