Scientists narrowing down risk factors for autism

Julie Spitzer - Print  | 

Scientists continue to crack the genetic code to better understand Autism Spectrum Disorder, reports CNBC.

About one in 68 children are diagnosed with autism, which affects how the brain develops and is characterized by social challenges or behavioral issues. And the developmental disorder's prevalence is on the rise: it has increased 119.4 percent between 2000 and 2010, but experts still do not know what causes it, despite decades of research.

However, some scientists now suspect many different genes and environmental factors may make someone more likely to develop the disorder.

Joint research out of Philadelphia-based Drexel University and New York City-based Columbia University correlated risk factors during early childhood and prenatal care to an increased risk of autism. Exposure to toxic chemicals — like pesticides, hormone-disrupting phthalates and some air pollutants — may play a role, for example. Mothers who had bacterial or viral infections during pregnancy or those who are obese may also increase their child's chances of developing the disorder.

Another study out of the UC Davis continues to track an array of genetic and environmental factors in children from the age of two to compare those who develop autism and those that do not.

"I don't think [understanding autism] is an unsolvable problem. I don't think any autism researcher would be doing it if it were," Alycia Halladay, chief science officer at the Autism Science Foundation, told CNBC.

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