TGen Joins Arizona Autism Center

TGen Joins Arizona Autism Center for Major Collaboration

April 2, 2003

The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) today announced a collaboration aimed at determining the underlying causes of autism, a leading childhood developmental disorder.

The collaboration brings together the sophisticated clinical efforts of SARRC with the scientific expertise of TGen in an effort to help the children and families impacted by autism, said Dr. Dietrich Stephan, director of TGen's Neurogenomics Research Program.

"Parents want answers. They want to know why such things happen to their children and how to help. This agreement brings together some of the best minds working on those two questions into one collaborative effort. We hope that this collaboration will make Arizona the national hub for autism research," said Stephan.

While it is not possible to predict how long such efforts will take, Stephan ultimately believes the collaborative model teaming TGen with SARRC is the way to go.

"The interplay between patients, their families and their clinicians with geneticists such as myself will produce results," Stephan said.

Stephan and his SARRC collaborators will actively seek patients and families willing to participate in long-term studies aimed at fully annotating clinical pedigrees and cataloguing exposure to toxins. This systematic approach for capturing all the variables may ultimately lead to the identification of genome alterations which interact with the environment to predispose one to autism, said Stephan.

While autism remains a mysterious and devastating disease, its causes most likely combine genetic and environmental factors, said Dr. Raun Melmed, SARRC medical director.

"By looking at underlying biological reasons for autism, the way it manifests itself as a child develops and potential environmental factors, we expect to find important answers for these children, their families and the community," Dr. Melmed said.

Autism affects one in 250 children under the age of 10, said Denise Resnik, SARRC board president and co-founder.

"More than 5,000 children with autism currently attend school in Maricopa County," Resnik said.

This local collaboration marks important progress for the institute, said TGen President and Scientific Director Dr. Jeffrey Trent.

"We at TGen see this as a real opportunity to utilize sophisticated genomic research to help families impacted by this still-mysterious disease. By joining forces with the doctors, researchers and families of SARRC, we can make progress faster than either would accomplish alone. This is the kind of collaboration that we expect to utilize throughout TGen," Trent said.

Details regarding the specific scientific approach will be announced in a few months, TGen and SARRC officials said. The strategy will certainly apply state-of-the-art genomic and proteomic tools to make inroads into improving diagnostics and therapeutics for this devastating disease.

Stephan brings important experience and expertise to TGen and its collaboration with SARRC. He leads a diverse program at TGen focused on improving diagnostics and early disease detection, as well as designing smart-drug therapeutics in a host of human diseases. He is a classically trained human geneticist and molecular biologist who has been applying state-of-the-art tools derived from the Human Genome Project to conditions that have a dramatic impact on our society. After a fellowship at the National Human Genome Research Institute, Stephan built a large research program at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. studying a number of pediatric cancers, inherited genetic diseases of many types, and a large number of neurological diseases and behavioral deficits. He chairs a large consortium of genome profiling centers focused specifically at better understanding of diseases of the central and peripheral nervous systems.

SARRC is a Phoenix-based nonprofit organization dedicated to autism research, education and community outreach. For more information about SARRC, call (602) 340-8717.

The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) is a non-profit biomedical research institute whose mission is to make and translate genomic discoveries into advances in human health.

Contact:Denise Resnik
President and Co-Founder
Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center
[email protected]

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