NIH and the advocacy group Autism Speaks are enrolling 1,200 pregnant women who have other children with autism spectrum disorders to participate in a large study that aims to identify early signs of the condition and its possible causes, the Wall Street Journal reports. Women who participate in the study — known as the Early Autism Risk Longitudinal Investigation, or EARLI, study — will be monitored throughout their pregnancies, and their infants will be monitored until age three.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 150 children in the U.S. has an autism spectrum disorder, which includes autism, Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorders. The study will focus on women who already have one child with an autism spectrum disorder because such women have a higher chance of having another child with the condition. Craig Newschaffer, the study’s lead investigator and a department chair at Philadelphia’s Drexel University School of Public Health, said, “By studying families who are already affected by autism, we feel we have the best chance at learning how genetics and environmental factors could work together to cause autism.”
Autism usually is characterized by social interaction and communication impairments, as well as unusual interests or behaviors. Although there is no cure for autism, its symptoms can be improved through therapy and medication, the Journal reports.
According to Newschaffer, researchers throughout the study will collect blood and urine for DNA analysis. Samples also will be collected from the umbilical cord, placenta and meconium — the infant’s first stool — after birth. Infants born during the study will be provided with a series of developmental assessments, and older siblings with autism also could receive assessments to confirm their diagnosis (Corbett Dooren, Wall Street Journal, 6/9).
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