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US Autism & Asperger Association, Inc. January 15, 2010

Welcome to USAAA Weekly News, an email newsletter that addresses a range of topics on Autism Spectrum Disorders and Asperger's Syndrome.


Illumina's Cheap New Gene Machine

Temple Grandin Biopic To Debut On HBO On Feb. 6

Study in mice shows why antidepressants often fail

Autism Transitioning to College

What About George?

Illumina's Cheap New Gene Machine
A new DNA reader could turbocharge research into cancer and autism

johns hopkins

The biotech company Illumina is introducing a new machine that it says will decode a person's DNA in one week using $10,000 worth of materials--five times cheaper than any other competing gadget on the market

The move represents the latest salvo in a war among several competing gene-sequencing companies to develop faster and cheaper DNA decoding machines. It moves scientists one step closer to the holy grail of being able to decode a person's entire genetic sequence for $1,000.

It's a pretty dramatic leap," says Elaine Mardis, a geneticist at Washington University in St. Louis, who was shown the machine on Monday. "This really provides a platform that is going to propel studies of complex diseases like cancer and autism," she says.

Over the last decade the cost of sequencing a single person's genetic material has shrunk by a factor of 10. The plummeting price of DNA sequencing is as important to medicine as cheaper microprocessors is to technology, because understanding how genes interact to cause disease will require comparing the DNA sequences of hundreds or thousands of patients. Within a few years many researchers believe the resulting information will start to become medically useful. Ultimately, top geneticists envision a day when every baby that is born has its entire genome sequenced at birth.

Click here for entire story on Illumina's Cheap New Gene Machine.

Temple Grandin Biopic To Debut On HBO On Feb. 6

brainThe U.S. beef industry will be front and center of America on Feb. 6 at 8 p.m. (EST). That marks the premiere on HBO of a biopic entitled “Temple Grandin.” The work chronicles the developmental and early professional years of Temple Grandin, the noted animal behaviorist and designer of livestock-handling facilities.

"Grandin presented at two USAAA hosted conferences in 2007."

Probably no person has had a greater effect over the past few decades on livestock handling in the U.S. or worldwide than Grandin, a Colorado State University professor of animal science. Grandin-designed facilities are in use throughout the world; in North America, almost half of all cattle are handled in a center-track restrainer system she designed for meat plants. Her writings on the flight zone and other principles of grazing animal behavior have helped many people to reduce stress on their animals during handling.

“It’s a really important story to tell. We’ve got to get kids into good educational programs and we’ve got to show that people with autism can do things. There are a lot of successful people who have even mild autism; I see them in all kinds of fields – construction, computer programmers and engineering. I even recognized autism traits in some of the people on the HBO set,” she says.

But Grandin’s accomplishments are particularly noteworthy because she’s one of the world’s highest functioning autistics. She’s worked to foster a better understanding of autism among the general population and is a prominent advocate for autism rights. And it’s that vein that the HBO presentation explores using the livestock industry as a backdrop to her personal discovery and development.

Click here for entire story on Temple Grandin Biopic To Debut On HBO On Feb. 6.

Study in mice shows why antidepressants often fail

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Antidepressants fail to help about half of the people who take them, and a study in mice may help explain why.

Most antidepressants -- including the commonly used Prozac and Zoloft -- work by increasing the amount of serotonin, a message-carrying brain chemical made deep in the middle of the brain by cells known as raphe neurons.

Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center in New York said on Wednesday that genetically engineered mice that had too much of one type of serotonin receptor in this region of the brain were less likely to respond to antidepressants.

"The goal is to figure out something that is useful for the non-responders," he said. For the study, Hen and colleagues needed to reach serotonin receptors in just the right part of the brain.

"These receptors dampen the activity of these (serotonin-producing) neurons. Too much of them dampen these neurons too much," Rene Hen of Columbia, whose study appears in the journal Neuron, said in a telephone interview.

"It puts too much brake on the system."

Click here for entire story on Study in mice shows why antidepressants often fail.


Autism Transitioning to College

by Laura Shumaker
San Francisco Chronicle

girl autismI used to envy my friends who had children with learning disabilities and Asperger Syndrome. I watched their sons and daughters move from special education classes to regular classes--some even landed in our school district's gifted and talented program. My understanding at the time was that since these kids were on the "graduation track", they would likely go to college, enter the work force and go on to live independently. I would later learn that academics alone are not enough.

"So much of the time, when students with learning disabilities and Asperger Syndrome show up at college, it is clear that they can't do the 4 year track that their parents hoped they could. The need for a transition/gap program for this population is desperate."

"My daughters have the grades and intelligence to get into college," said my friend, Marnie Raymond. Her twin teenage girls have Asperger['s] [Syndrome]."But their underdeveloped social skills, lack of central coherence and poor executive functioning impact their ability to function without a great deal of support."

Now there is an option in the Bay Area for college-age youths with Asperger Syndrome, high-functioning autism, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and other learning differences to help them transition into the real world--The College Internship Program (CIP)in downtown Berkeley.

Click here for entire story on Autism Transitioning to College.


What About George?

georgeGeorge Kramer sat hunched on his stool behind the counter of the small hardware store on Coney Island Avenue, gazing out the window at the passing traffic. He was bundled up in a heavy sweater, a maroon wool cap folded above his ears. Toward the back of the store, beyond Mr. Kramer’s field of vision, Isaac Abraham was rifling through a cabinet. Mr. Abraham, the store’s owner for many years, knows Mr. Kramer about as well as anybody, and he was about to give a demonstration.

George to me — is my second cousin, and he has worked at Kramer’s Hardware, in Flatbush, Brooklyn, for 58 years. He has a developmental disability, which is obvious to people who meet him, but he also has a rare and less apparent ability: Like the late Kim Peek, the inspiration for the film “Rain Man,” George, 71, has a powerful memory for dates and numbers and facts.

Quietly, he removed a faucet knob from the cabinet and hid it behind his back. Then he approached the counter and clapped it down with a flourish.

Mr. Kramer gave it a perfunctory glance. “Gerber,” he said.

“Gerber what?” asked Mr. Abraham.

“Ninety-nine, eleven fifty-one.”

Mr. Abraham turned over the package to show the catalog number: 99-1151. Mr. Kramer — George to me — is my second cousin, and he has worked at Kramer’s Hardware, in Flatbush, Brooklyn, for 58 years. He has a developmental disability, which is obvious to people who meet him, but he also has a rare and less apparent ability: Like the late Kim Peek, the inspiration for the film “Rain Man,” George, 71, has a powerful memory for dates and numbers and facts. If you tell him your birthday, he can tell you what day it will fall on two years in the future. He studies phone directories and atlases in his spare time. As one relative recently put it to me, “If you drop him in Oshkosh or anywhere, he’ll find his way home.”

Click here for entire story on What About George?.

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