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Study identifies more genes tied to autism, researchers say findings an important step

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Posted at 7:57 PM, Oct 31, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-31 21:57:43-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Benjamin Owen falls in the 2 percent of Utah children who have an autism spectrum disorder.

"I have a 7-year-old son who was diagnosed,” said Jon Owen, who is Benjamin’s father and the President of the Utah Autism Coalition. “He was diagnosed fairly early with a learning disability and later we got the autism diagnoses."

Jon said he welcomes any research that works to find out more about the disorder.

"The more we know about how it works and how people learn and how they function, I think is a good thing," Owen said.

According to the Utah Autism Monitoring Project, one in 54 Utah children have an autism spectrum disorder. Researchers said a new study is one step in the right direction to find the answer for autism.

"This study changed the number of genes that we know are associated with autism fourfold,” said Doctor Deborah Bilder, Associate Professor at the University of Utah Department of Psychiatry. “As a result, we now understand what could be causing autism.”

Deborah Bilder is one of the Utah researchers playing a key role in an ongoing international study to find the underlying cause of autism. A study published earlier this week indicates researchers found a dramatically expanded list of genes identified with autism

"This allows us to start understanding much more in detail what could be going on with autism,” Bilder said. “Because in order to change the course of autism from a biological perspective, we need to understand what's going on.”

Bilder said the study is the largest of its kind. Researchers looked at DNA samples from 14,000 people, including more than 100 Utahns.

"This lets us know where to hone in,” Bilder said. “So as you look at things at a closer and closer level, now we know where to start looking at mechanisms and where to focus our researching efforts.”

Families, including the Owen family, are looking forward to other studies that may come from this research.

"There's some hope that through research like this they'll be able to maybe come up with pharmaceuticals or something that could help with those things,” Owen said. “It might be down the line, but it's good it might be coming.”