Centre plays central role in international autism study

The first results of an international study into the DNA of families with autistic children have just been released, revealing two previously unknown genetic links to the disorder.

The Autism Genome Project (AGP), an international group of 120 researchers from 50 institutions across 19 countries, released the first results of the genetic study of autism in the Feb 18th online edition of Nature Genetics.

Funded by international, private and public partners, AGP has achieved its initial goals of assembling the world's largest gene bank, with DNA from 1200 families where more than one child is affected with autism, and carrying out the world's most comprehensive genome scan into the genetics of autism. This was jointly led by two academics from the University of Oxford, Professor Anthony Monaco, from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, and Professor Anthony Bailey, from the Department of Psychiatry.

The second phase of AGP is now underway, with $14.5m of funding over three years. This phase will involve searching the gene bank for variations in genes associated with autism. Professor Anthony Monaco is acting as principal investigator for this task, with his laboratory at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics taking a leading role, together with other sites in Ireland, Canada and the US. The research in the UK has been funded by over £900k from the Medical Research Council (MRC) and £50k from Autism Speaks UK. Professor Monaco said: "I am really pleased that we have secured significant funds for phase two of the project. This will allow us to screen the genomes of thousands of families to identify any genes that increase an individual's susceptibility to autism."

Guardian 19 February