Skip navigation

University College Dublin Logo

Advanced Search

UCD News

Nuacht UCD

€5 million for Irish researchers to help identify autism gene

Posted: 19 February 2007

With funding provided by the Health Research Board (HRB), Irish researchers will participate in a leading international consortium* that aims to help identify the gene responsible for causing autism. The Autism Genome Project (AGP), which was formally announced on 18 Feb 2007, will receive a total of €12 million from a variety of international organisations over the next three years.

Autism is a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person’s ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by extreme behavioural challenges. Autism Spectrum Disorders are diagnosed in one in 166 children in the United States, affecting four times as many boys as girls. The diagnosis of autism has increased tenfold in the last decade. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have called autism a national public health crisis whose cause and cure remain unknown.

The research in Ireland will be conducted by the Irish Autism Genetics Collaboration - a partnership between researchers in University College Dublin (UCD), Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and their associated hospitals (Tallaght Hospital [AMiNCH], the National Centre for Medical Genetics and the Health Service Executive).

UCD researchers, Professor Andrew Green and Dr Sean Ennis from the UCD School of Medicine and Medical Science, and TCD researchers, Dr Louise Gallagher and Professor Michael Gill from the School of Medicine at TCD, will play a lead role in the project.

The research sets out to identify genes that contribute to the risk of autism in a large sample of individuals and families with autism which were recruited in Ireland and across the globe. The goal is to find a link between clinical and genetic information in patients in order to better understand the factors which contribute to autism. This will be crucial to the development of diagnostics, targeted treatment and intervention.

“This project will bring new understanding to how autism develops,” said Professor Andrew Green, UCD School of Medicine and Medical Science. “It will further raise the profile of Irish science worldwide.”

Professor Michael Gill, School of Medicine at TCD, described the project as an exciting opportunity for Irish researchers to play a key role in a prestigious international project. “Our involvement in this kind of a global initiative is recognition of the skills and dedication of Irish research teams focused on autism in both Trinity and University College Dublin.”

Building on previous success, the international coalition of researchers will apply 'gene-chip' technologies to scan the genome for association with new genetic markers, as well as sub-microscopic copy number variations (CNVs) along chromosomes in autism. The finding will guide high-throughput DNA sequencing experiments designed to pinpoint underlying changes in DNA sequences in autism susceptibility genes. The unprecedented statistical power generated by the AGP will ultimately allow researchers to confirm the role of these genes, in autism spectrum disorders.

“Working in partnership with other organisations and sharing research information is a progressive approach that we hope will yield results. The Health Research Board believes that co-operation between such an eminent group of researchers, philanthropists, funding agencies and the participating families, will increase our understanding of the gene involved in autism and we hope that the discoveries made will lead to effective targeted interventions,” said Dr Ruth Barrington, Chief Executive at the HRB.

* The other co-funders in the international consortium include Autism Speaks (US), the British Medical Research Council (MRC), Genome Canada and partners, Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC), and the Hilibrand Foundation. This unique combination of international, public and private partners funding a consortium of clinicians and scientists is a new and welcome departure in the field of autism research.

About the HRB

The Health Research Board is the lead agency in Ireland supporting and funding health research. With an annual budget of approximately €40 million from the Department of Health and Children and current commitments worth over €100 million, the HRB supports a broad range of health research in Ireland in the hope of improving links between the laboratory and the delivery of patient care.

>> More News and Events
<< Back to Home