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New Technique Will Transform Epigenetics Research

Collaboration between scientists at Cambridge University and the Babraham Institute have demonstrated a new technique that will significantly improve scientists' ability to perform epigenetics research and help unlock the door to understanding how cells develop and function. Epigenetics is a branch of genetics that studies modifications to the DNA which affect gene activity. The research, published April 26 in the journal Science,has important implications for stem cell research and the development of regenerative medicines.

All the cells in the body have the same DNA sequence (genome), but it is how this DNA sequence is interpreted that results in the formation of different cell types. Epigenetic changes control how a DNA sequence is interpreted, specifically how different genes are switched on and off in different cell types, tissues and organs.

One of the most studied epigenetic marks is the addition of a very small chemical modification called a methyl group to DNA, which turns associated genes off. Methyl groups are always added to the DNA base cytosine and so this chemical modification is called 5-methylcytosine (5mC). Babraham Institute scientists are involved in researching the role of another DNA chemical modification in mammals called 5-hydroxymethyl-cytosine (5hmC), which is believed to be important for stem cell function, helping to define how the body develops. 5hmC may be a separate epigenetic mark or possibly be part of the process which removes methyl groups from DNA, allowing genes to be switched on again. Decoding the 'epigenome' will provide greater understanding of how cells are regulated and has major implications for regenerative medicine and how cells such as stem cells can be controlled.

Read the full article over at ScienceDaily

New Study Links Autism With the Typical American Diet

The typical American diet may be linked to the epidemic of autism in children in the U.S., according to a new studypublished online in the journal Clinical Epigenetics. 

David Wallinga, senior adviser in science, food and health at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, says unhealthy diets interfere with the body's ability to eliminate toxic chemicals, increasing the risk for long-term health problems such as autism.

"We're not pretending that it's not complex. It is. But the important thing to realize is that these environmental and nutritional factors are critical, that they work together, and that ultimately a lot of them are preventable causes of autism."

Wallinga says one example of the link between nutrition and autism is that highly-processed and sweetened foods can affect a body's ability to detoxify.

"People who consume high-fructose corn syrup can develop problems with mineral deficiencies, and these mineral deficiencies in turn can make their bodies have more problems with getting rid of contaminants in their bodies."

For the complete story, visit Public News Service by clicking here:

What Gets Me Through

What gets me through the day & stops me from pulling a Thelma & Louise: 

My Husband:  Matt is an amazingly supportive husband and rock-star dad. He comes home from work after a long day and goes straight into dad/hubby/cat whisperer mode. I love him.

My Family: Specifically my mom – she’s in touch with autism groups, she researches, she reads and she understands.

My Friends: I get by with a little help from my friends, LITERALLY. My friends are the most honest, supportive, wonderful and beautiful people in the world. They are the family I choose. They don’t keep score, they take my child when I need a break, they get my husband and I out of the house for game nights, they let me cry all over them, they feed me tasty viddles and they unconditionally understand our situation.

The poem “IF” by Rudyard Kipling: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same…”

This Quote: “Just because you have autism doesn’t mean you can scream in the store.” A good friend shared this with me; it is available when judgy moms and dads stare and shake their heads & make comments when we are grocery shopping and London is losing it. This quote works EVERY SINGLE TIME – all those judgy-judgertons who stare at us at the supermarket immediately turn around and mind their business.

Vices: Dark Chocolate, Red Wine, Coffee, Coffee & more Coffee!

Cardio: My generous mother and father in law were kind enough to give us a treadclimber and I absolutely love it.

For the full story, visit Autistic London by clicking here:

After $1B, experts see progress on autism's causes

More than $1 billion has been spent over the past decade researching autism. In some ways, the search for its causes looks like a long-running fishing expedition, with a focus on everything from genetics to the age of the father, the weight of the mother, and how close a child lives to a freeway.

That perception may soon change. Some in the field say they are seeing the beginning of a wave of scientific reports that should strengthen some theories, jettison others and perhaps even herald new drugs.

"I do think over the next three to five years we'll be able to paint a much clearer picture of how genes and environmental factors combine" to cause autism, said Geraldine Dawson, a psychologist who is chief science officer for the advocacy group Autism Speaks.

The effort has been infused with new urgency by a recent federal report that found autism disorders are far more common than was previously understood, affecting 1 in 88 U.S. children. Better diagnosis is largely responsible for the new estimate, but health officials said there may actually be more cases of autism, too.

If autism's causes remain a mystery, "you're not going to be able to stop this increase," said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a researcher at the University of California, Davis who is leading a closely watched study into what sparks autism disorders.

In the past week, a spate of studies released during National Autism Awareness Month has offered tantalizing new information about potential causes. Research published in the journal Nature widened the understanding of the genetic roots of some cases and confirmed the elevated risks for children with older fathers. Another study, released online Monday in Pediatrics, suggested maternal obesity may play a role.

To be sure, finding the causes of autism — an umbrella term for a variety of disorders that delay children socially or intellectually — remains daunting. The causes are believed to be complicated, and not necessarily the same for each child. Some liken autism to cancer — a small word for a wide range of illnesses. In many cases, autism can be blamed on both genetic problems that load the gun and other factors that pull the trigger.

For the rest of the story, check out WRAL.com's page here.

Obese Moms May Be More Likely To Have Autistic Child

Women who are obese when pregnant may have a higher risk of having a baby with autism, a new study indicates.

Researchers found that the risk of autism increased by nearly 70 percent when moms were obese during their pregnancies, while the risk of a having a baby with some other neurodevelopmental disorder doubled, according to the study published early online Monday in Pediatrics.

Milder versions of autism, such as Asperger's syndrome and related conditions, form a "spectrum" of autism-related disorders. In addition, impairments in any one of the autism-related cognitive skill areas are considered developmental delays.

To take a closer look at the impact of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure during pregnancy, the researchers compared medical histories of 315 typically developing children to those of 517 children with autism and 172 children with developmental disorders.

Moms with diabetes were slightly more likely to have a baby with autism, but the numbers weren’t large enough for the researchers to be sure that the association wasn’t just by chance. The association between a mom’s diabetes and some other neurodevelopmental disorder was stronger. In fact, diabetic moms were more than twice as likely to have a child later diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disorder.

Dr. Daniel Coury, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, said the results "raise quite a concern."

You can read the original story on the MSNBC site by clicking here.

Autism Definition: Doctors Want To Redefine; Parents Worried

One child doesn't talk, rocks rhythmically back and forth and stares at clothes spinning in the dryer. Another has no trouble talking but is obsessed with trains, methodically naming every station in his state.

Autistic kids like these hate change, but a big one is looming.

For the first time in nearly two decades, experts want to rewrite the definition of autism. Some parents fear that if the definition is narrowed, their children may lose out on special therapies.

For years, different autism-related labels have been used, the best known being Asperger's disorder. The doctors working on the new definition want to eliminate separate terms like that one and lump them all into an "autism spectrum disorder" category.

Some specialists contend the proposal will exclude as many as 40 percent of kids now considered autistic. Parents of mildly affected children worry their kids will be left out and lose access to academic and behavioral services – and any chance of a normal life.

But doctors on the American Psychiatric Association panel that has proposed the changes say none of that would happen.

Read all about it at the Huffington Post here:   

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