When scientists try to find autism-linked genes, it looks like they are all over the place. Scientists have found that 20 out of 23 chromosomes have regions that may be important for autism.
Having so many candidates makes it hard to find single autism-linked genes. This is because of the way scientists usually find disease genes.
What they tend to do is look at the DNA of lots of people with a disease. And compare it to close relatives who don't have the disease. By doing this on lots of families, the scientists can figure out where important changes are.
But it all becomes much harder if there is more than one gene. And even harder if there are 10 or 20.
The research here is useful in finding autism-linked genes because it can show scientists where to look in the DNA. Scientists can focus on those areas where they found the changes in other autistic families.
From this they may find smaller DNA changes that might contribute to autism in other families. And by identifying the genes, new treatments may become available too.
When a scientists knows a gene is involved in a disease, that may provide clues for how to treat the disease. For example, there is a form of leukemia called acute promyelocytic leukemia.
In this cancer, two genes get stuck together. One of the genes is called the retinoic acid receptor. It makes a protein called the retinoic acid receptor.
We know how to shut that protein off. So we can treat the cancer by shutting off the retinoic acid receptor. Without knowing about these genes being stuck together, there is no way this treatment would have been tried.
Perhaps by finding autism-linked genes we may come up with useful treatments. Or at the very least with useful tests so we can catch the disease early. And start treatment for these kids as soon as possible when it can help the most.