News Video | Policy | GPs | Hospitals | Medical | Mental Health | Welfare | Search


Kiwi Team seeking DNA to unlock mysteries of autism


14 August 2013

Kiwi Team seeking DNA to embark on a quest to unlock mysteries of autism

A group of New Zealand scientists are chasing down the causes of ASD (autism spectrum disorder). Part of this work is seeking DNA from kiwis affected by ASD in an effort to uncover the keys to autism.

In launching the ambitious and groundbreaking research, the local team join the international race to find the underlying biological causes for ASD, a life-long condition which is estimated to affect 45,000 New Zealanders.

With some world-renowned geneticists at the helm, the local team believe they have as good a chance of making a breakthrough as their international counterparts.

The “Minds for Minds” campaign, created by WhybinTBWA, launched at The University of Auckland’s Centre for Brain Research on Monday evening and aims to encourage all New Zealanders on the spectrum to register on their database. Some will then be contacted to have their human genome sequenced.

The success of the project will rely on public fundraising for the sequencing and analysis of the DNA. At a cost of between $1000-$3000 per individual, an initial target of 1 million dollars has been set to enable the sequencing to happen.

It’s hoped the analysis will help researchers understand the complex condition responsible for a broad spectrum of behavioural and intellectual disabilities. Far from the Hollywood image of autistic people having genius talents as seen in “Rainman”, most diagnosed with ASD have intellectual impairment, may not be able to speak and many will not be able to live independent lives.

The multi-disciplinary research team includes distinguished geneticist Professor Russell Snell who was part of the team successful in isolating the gene for Huntington’s disease and the subsequent transgenic sheep model. Joining him is Dr Jess Jacobsen who’s been repatriated by the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School to work on the project. Dr Jacobsen was last year awarded a prestigious Rutherford Discovery Fellowship to fund her research into the genetics of ASD.

The team also includes biologist Dr Johanna Montgomery whose research into the connection between brain proteins and autism hit the headlines late last year.

Microbiologist Dr Mike Taylor, functional biologist Associate Professor Klaus Lehnert, developmental neuropsychologist Associate Professor Karen Waldie, cognitive neuroscientist Professor Ian Kirk and clinical neurologist Dr Rosamund Hill, who has a profoundly autistic son, make up the team.

Professor Snell said he is optimistic his team can contribute considerably to the worldwide collaborative effort to find the genetic basis for autism, leading to a positive diagnostic or prognostic test and ultimately treatments for some families.

“This is not pure research or just for geeks; I see this work very much as a way of practically making life easier for families or individuals dealing with autism. In our best dreams patterns may be seen and people will be better disposed to learn what is ahead for them. It doesn’t have to end up with a drug. There are other levels of outcome,” Professor Snell said.

Neurologist Dr Rosamund Hill, who has a 10 year old profoundly autistic son, said parents of children with ASD were often in the dark about what was ahead for their children.

“It would be great if we could say these genetic changes in your child mean this is likely to be the course of their condition as opposed to they have autism but we have no idea what that will mean in the long term,” Dr Hill said.

Photo: l-r

Assoc Prof Karen Waldie, Dr Johanna Montgomery, Prof Ian Kirk, Dr Mike Taylor, Prof Russell Snell, Dr Jessie Jacobsen & Dr Rosamund HillENDS

© Scoop Media

Culture Headlines | Health Headlines | Education Headlines


Howard Davis: Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman'

The Guardian needed not one, but three reviews to do justice to Fennell's unsettling approach, which indicates exactly how ambiguous and controversial its message really is. More>>

Howard Davis: Jill Trevelyan's Rita Angus

Although Angus has become one of Aotearoa’s best-loved painters, the story of her life remained little known and poorly understood before Jill Trevelyan's acclaimed and revelatory biography, which won the Non Fiction Award at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards in 2009, and has now been republished by Te Papa press. More>>

Howard Davis: The Back of the Painting

Painting conservators are the forensic pathologists of the art world. While they cannot bring their subjects back to life, they do provide fascinating insights into the precise circumstances of a painting's creation, its material authenticity, and constructive methodology. More>>

Howard Davis: Black Panthers on the Prowl

A passionate and gripping political drama from Shaka King, this is an informative and instructive tale of human frailty that centers around the charismatic Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, who was murdered at the age of twenty-one during a police raid. More>>

Howard Davis: Controlling the High Ground

Stephen Johnson's raw and angry film not only poses important questions with scrupulous authenticity, but also provides a timely reminder of the genocidal consequences of casual bigotry and xenophobia. More>>

Howard Davis: Dryzabone - Robert Conolly's The Dry

After the terrible devastation caused by last year’s bushfires, which prompted hundreds of Australians to shelter in the ocean to escape incineration and destroyed uncountable amounts of wildlife, The Dry has been released during a totally different kind of dry spell. More>>

Howard Davis: Hit the Road, Jack - Chloé Zhao's Nomadland

Nomadland is perhaps the ultimately 'road' movie as it follows a group of dispossessed and disenfranchised vagabonds who find a form of communal refuge in camp sites and trailer parks after the economic contraction of 2008. More>>



  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • Auckland