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CONTENTS Issue #526
Genetics and autism: untangling the debate
The genetics and sociology of the autism spectrum
Theatre Review: A Stroke of Genius
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Genetics and autism: untangling the debate
21 September 2009 - by Professor Richard Ashcroft
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is rarely far from the news. ASD is a complex, and as yet poorly understood, pervasive developmental disorder. People with ASD display a triad of impairments in social communication, social interaction, and social imagination (1). The impact of these impairments on children and adults with ASD, and on their families, can vary enormously. However, a common reaction to ASD is fear: fear that my child may develop ASD; fear that my child with ASD will suffer; [Read More]
The genetics and sociology of the autism spectrum
21 September 2009 - by Dr Michael Fitzpatrick
The early narrow definition of autism emerged out of the psychiatry of the pre-war years and became widely accepted in the post-war decades. While research revealed a substantial genetic contribution to autism, in the late twentieth century there was an upsurge in the diagnosis of autism, particularly among 'higher functioning' individuals, and the concept of the 'autistic spectrum' became established.... [Read More]
New technique could help children needing bone marrow transplant
21 September 2009 - by Alison Cranage
Children who need bone marrow transplants, such as those with genetic immune system disorders, could benefit from a new technique that reduces the need for chemotherapy. The new technique uses antibodies rather than chemotherapy to clear a patient's own bone marrow prior to transplant of donor marrow. Doctors from Great Ormond Street Hospital and UCL's Institute of Child Health reported their findings in The Lancet last week.... [Read More]
New type 2 diabetes gene makes cells resistant to insulin
21 September 2009 - by Adam Fletcher
An international team of researchers has identified a novel gene variant in people with type 2 diabetes (T2D) that affects how muscle cells respond to insulin. The work - published in the journal Nature Genetics - was conducted by teams including those of Drs Robert Sladek and Constantin Polychronakos of McGill's Faculty of Medicine, Canada; Professor Philippe Froguel of the CNRS and Lille University in France and Imperial College London; and Dr Oluf Pedersen of the University of Copenhagen a... [Read More]
New codes of practice launched by the UK's HTA
17 September 2009 - by Dr Karen Devine
Following a three month online public consultation process, which began in late 2008, the UK's Human Tissue Authority (HTA) has this week announced the release of seven revised codes of practice relating to consent, transplantation, post-mortem examination, donation of bone marrow and peripheral stem cells, anatomical examination, disposal and public display... [Read More]
Gene therapy makes monkeys 'see red'
21 September 2009 - by Sarah Pritchard
Scientists in the USA have used gene therapy to restore full vision to two male squirrel monkeys with red-green colour blindness, raising hopes that the technique might one day be used to treat humans. The researchers injected both monkeys with the human form of a gene which enables detection of the colour red. Five months after the treatment, the monkeys were able to successfully identify a red pattern on a background of grey dots.... [Read More]
Researchers discover 'key gene' in fight against cancer
21 September 2009 - by Dr Will Fletcher
The key gene that causes blood stem cells to become the immune system's disease-fighting 'Natural Killer' (NK) cells has been identified for the first time. UK researchers were studying the gene responsible, named E4bp4, to investigate its effects on a rare but fatal form of childhood leukaemia when they stumbled upon its apparent role as a master switch for the production of NK cells. The scientists, from University College London, Imperial College London, and the... [Read More]
Gene linked to mucus production hints at treatment for cystic fibrosis
21 September 2009 - by Dr Charlotte Maden
Scientists in the US have found a genetic switch that effects excess mucus production in lung diseases such as asthma and cystic fibrosis (CF), and even the common cold.... [Read More]
University of California settles missing embryo lawsuits
21 September 2009 - by Ben Jones
The University of California, Irvine, has brought closer the end of litigation over egg thefts committed in the late 1980s with a further dozen cases settled at a cost of £2.6 million. The payouts are the latest made in connection with 137 distinct cases in which eggs or embryos disappearing from the University's Centre for Reproductive Health and were then distributed to other women, used for research or lost. The total value of settlements made so far in connection with the scandal is now a... [Read More]
Birth complications at higher maternal age related to age at first period
21 September 2009 - by Nienke Korsten
Mothers who started menstruating at an earlier age are at a higher risk for complications at birth, researchers from Cambridge, UK report. This means that the higher risk for complications for older mothers identified in other studies may be dependent on the time that has elapsed since their first period, rather than the mother's age per se. These results are to be published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.... [Read More]
Doctors may be offered discount genetic tests
21 September 2009 - by Dr Jay Stone
Doctors might soon be offered reduced price DNA analysis from genetic profiling companies such as 23andme, in the hope that this will better equip them to answer any questions their patients have about the tests and the results that cause concern.... [Read More]
Study claims genes may influence age at which girls lose virginity
21 September 2009 - by Dr Marianne Kennedy
A study published in the journal Child Development suggests that a father's absence may not be a causal factor in a child's earlier sexual maturation, but rather other factors such as the social environment and genetics.... [Read More]
Experts attack 'fertility tourism' industry
21 September 2009 - by Ailsa Stevens
British couples travelling abroad to take advantage of commercial surrogate arrangements are engaging in a form of 'exploitation', Professor Naomi Pfeffer, an expert in the ethics and regulation of controversial developments in medicine, said at a fertility meeting this week.... [Read More]
Theatre Review: A Stroke of Genius
21 September 2009 - by MacKenna Roberts
As the curtain dropped on the closing night performance of the London-based PIT Theatre Cooperative's world premiere production performed throughout August at this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival, so too ended the rare opportunity to witness a science communication creative, if not comical, success (of which I hope we see more). The PIT Collective's topical comedy entitled A Stroke of Genius bravely and uniquely informed its audience as its light-hearted plot turned on broad-sweeping bioethi... [Read More]

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