The search for the cause of autism got a boost today, when two federal agencies indicated they would continue funding three research projects at the M.I.N.D. Institute at the University of California-Davis.
The institute is investigating possible links between genetics, fetal exposure to environmental toxins that damage the brain, and the development of autism. Here's how the institute describes autism: "Autism is a pervasive, lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder that causes poor verbal and communication skills, repetitive behaviors and impaired social abilities.
"Autism diagnoses have increased markedly during the past two decades: It is now estimated that one in every 150 children in the United States has autism or a closely related disorder. Autism currently costs the nation $90 billion each year a figure that is expected to double in the next decade." The funding for research comes from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Increasingly, research is showing that chemicals that are often harmless to adults can have a significant effect on developing fetuses and children, whose brains and body systems are still developing. Interruption or disruption of key biological processes during development can lead to lasting problems, and many believe that autism could be triggered or caused by such an environmental cause. It isn't the only childhood disease on an unexplained rise, however. Asthma and allergies are also increasingly common among American children.
"The ultimate goal of the center is to determine the mechanisms by which chemicals known to be toxic to the developing nervous and immune systems contribute to abnormal development of social behavior in children, leading to strategies for prevention and intervention," according to the EPA press release. "Researchers will also identify which combination of environmental exposures most likely contribute to the problem." The ongoing studies being conducted focus on these three areas:
For more information, visit these Websites:
EPA/NIEHS Children's Centers Research on Autism
Centers for Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research
The M.I.N.D. Institute
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