Searching for Genetic Answers to the Autism Puzzle

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I was pleased to read this morning that Google has formed a loose association with Autism Speaks to allow the scientific community better access to the massive amounts of genetic data around the condition. Essentially Google will house and apply data analysis tools to about 10,000 entirely sequenced genomes of sufferers of the disease. It’s a terrific idea to use the staggering large data storage and crunching power which Google has access to, to house and research the one million Gigabytes of data which that much DNA represents. Research in genomic medicine is intensely data driven. Way back in the late middle ages I graduated with a degree in Genetics with a strong focus on what was the molecular biology of that early era. To think that in the thirty years since then (jeez is it really 30!) we have come as far as we have is amazing at so many levels.

The researchers have a mammoth task on their hands. Many diseases typically have a complex mixture of genetic and environmental causes.  Some are incredibly closely linked to very small areas of the genome…down to a single base pair error in some cases. Diseases as complex as Autism (with its famous ‘spectrum’ of manifestation) are typically caused by the interaction of multiple genetic and sometimes environmental factors. For example I have Asthma but I’m fine if I stay away from cats and some pollen. Tracking down exactly which combination of needles in haystacks is causing the problem then trying to figure out what therapy might impact it is a staggeringly difficult task. We have to hope that they have the same kind of success seen by French researchers recently where they found a relatively simple gene mutation which causes a break in a key enzyme pathway which is directly linked to Alzheimer’s. If they can fix that simple break maybe we can prevent that horrible disease.

This isn’t Google’s first venture into DNA. They were one of the original investors in 23 and Me a company founded by Sergey Brin’s clever sister. They allow you to have your own DNA mapped for the purposes of ancestry research. It also used to include data on markers for potential genetically based diseases but the FDA nixed that a year or more back ‘pending investigation’. I actually had mine done recently and it turns out that (much to my surprise) in addition to the bulk of by DNA being boringly British in origin…I’m also over 25% viking. Apparently this is a very common thing with us Brits…guess what costume I’m going in for the next Halloween party.

One last thought…if it takes the power and majesty of Google and the entire scientific community to come together to start to try to figure out the causes of autism…just where in the proverbial hell does a retired playboy bunny like Jennifer McCarthy (a dumb blond formerly married to formerly funny guy Jim Carrey)  get off telling parents who lack the time or attention span to check the facts, not to get their children vaccinated against deadly childhood diseases like measles because “vaccinations cause autism”. No dummy…vaccinations save children’s lives. The 1998 “research” which sent this blond idiot off on her damaging quest to harm our children was essentially falsified and has been subsequently completely retracted. There is no scientific link.  If we have seen a rise in autism it is much more likely ’caused’ by better diagnosis and early detection than by completely unrelated vaccinations. Her stupefying arrogance and ignorance powered by her D list celebrity and the sad gullibility of many parents has led to the re-emergence in this country of a disease only doctors over 60 will have ever seen outside of textbooks. This isn’t “The View” it’s science. I sincerely hope that much in the same way that those reptiles from the Westboro Baptist Church picketed the funerals of service men so the parents of children who were needlessly killed by this superstitious tomfoolery will invite Ms McCarthy to attend their children’s funerals.

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