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Written Answers - Autism Spectrum Disorders

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 760 No. 3

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 659.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan  asked the Minister for Health Information on James Reilly Zoom on James Reilly  the extent to which research is co-ordinated on an EU basis into such issues as Autism and Aspergers or similar heath matters affecting children; the degree to which levels here compared with other EU member states; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16982/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Kathleen Lynch): Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch The Department of Health does not collect information on children identified with Autism and Aspergers on a national or international basis. Information pertaining to diagnosis is specifically excluded from the National Intellectual Disability Database as the database is not designed as a medical epidemiological tool. Accordingly the database does not record the incidence of Autism or any other disability.

The 2011 National Council for Special Education (NCSE) study on prevalence of special educational needs in Ireland (A Study on the Prevalence of Special Educational Needs, Joanne Banks and Selina McCoy, Economic and Social Research Institute) includes autism and estimates that prevalence for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is 1 in 100.

The Health Research Board currently funds one research project, valued at €257,229 in the area of ASD entitled “Resequencing for highly penetrant rare and de novo mutations in the neurodevelopmental disorders autism and schizophrenia”

In 2004, the Department of Health provided funding for research into autism through the HRB as part of the Autism Genome Project — a collaboration of autism researchers internationally aimed at understanding susceptibility to ASD, to pave the way towards the development of better diagnostics and treatments. The research groups for this work were based in Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin. The second phase of the program (2007-2011) was recently completed. This research investigated the genetic risk factors in ASD by pooling DNA obtained from a large international sample of individuals and their families, including many Irish families. Genetic screening was then employed to identify (i) genetic variants that might increase the risk of autism and (ii) structural changes in the DNA of people [974]with autism. In parallel, complete clinical information was gathered on participants and the clinical and genetic information was combined in the analysis.

The main outcome showed that although ASDs have a substantial genetic basis, most of the known genetic risk has been traced to rare structural gene variants. These gene variants were both de novo (arising for the first time in individuals) or inherited, implicating many novel ASD genes and genes involved in neurodevelopment. The results of this research revealed many new genetic and functional targets in ASD that has increased the understanding of the causes of ASD and will inform future therapeutic approaches. The key research findings were published in the prestigious international science journal Nature.

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