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Creighton School of Medicine researcher lends help to study of genetic ties to autism

Holly Stessman, PhD, of the Department of Pharmacology in the Creighton School of Medicine, contributed to a recent study on the role of genetics in autism.A Creighton University School of Medicine professor’s contributions to an international undertaking aimed at an expanded sequencing of autism genes are part of a new publication in the journal Nature Genetics.

Holly Stessman, PhD, of the Department of Pharmacology, and an expert in the identification of autism genes was part of a 15-institution collaboration that helped link 38 new genes to autism or related developmental delays and intellectual disabilities. The study involved researchers from seven different countries who recruited 13,000 people with some form of autism or other developmental delay.

The study posits autism is distinct from other developmental delays and intellectual disabilities based on 25 genes showing a bias for autism versus intellectual disability and highlighting a network associated with high-functioning autism.

According to a 2014 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in every 68 babies in the United States is born with autism – nearly double the rate found in 2004.

The Autism Society describes autism spectrum disorder as a complex developmental disability that affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. There is no known single cause.

Stessman was also a finalist in the “Bridge to Independence” program — which is sponsored by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative and provides support to scientists just beginning their faculty careers — and will receive $450,000 over three years for her work on in vitro modeling of genetic subtypes of autism.

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