The molecular basis of autism spectrum disorder and other neurodevelopmental disorders

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Each person has a DNA make-up (their genes), which is unique except in the case of identical twins. This genetic make-up is a mixture of the genes of our parents. The precise way that they are mixed varies from child to child within the same family, so having the same parents does not mean that two children will have exactly the same genes. In some cases, a genetic change or multiple genetic changes can adversely affect the way that genes function, affecting our health and wellbeing. These genetic variants have been difficult to find in the past; however, new technologies analysing all of a person's genes simultaneously are now available to us.

We believe that these new technologies, together with our unique New Zealand population, and the close relationships between those affected, their clinicians, and our research team, will provide a unique opportunity to discover the genetic basis of autism and related disorders.

Human guts harbour an enormous abundance and variety of microorganisms, including bacteria and fungi. These microbial "communities" have profound effects on human health, allowing us to efficiently digest our food and protecting us from infection by other, harmful microbes. However, when our gut microbial communities are in a state of dysbiosis, or imbalance, there can be negative consequences for our health. Many recent studies have pointed to a potential link between our gut microbes and neurological disorders, including autism. We are using modern molecular biology techniques to investigate the role, if any, played by gut microbes in the autism spectrum disorders.

The results of this study will give insight into the underlying biology and ultimately aid diagnosis, which can subsequently lead to better targeted treatment options. The results from the genetic studies will also inform functional studies which will examine how genetic variants detected with Autism alter the structure and function of brain cells. These data will provide us with knowledge of how the wiring of the brain may differ in Autism and enable examination of how these changes could be reversed. Our study will be part of, and contribute to, the international scientific research effort into autism spectrum disorders and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

If you are interested in participating in this study, please register yourself or a person in your care. We are currently matching the clinical profiles of those registered to the research programme and will invite participants to provide informed consent before enrolment in the study.

Thank you, The Minds for Minds Network of New Zealand

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