Millions for research into toxic chemical link with autism

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is ploughing $7.5 million (£3.7 million) into university research on how babies' exposure to toxic chemicals may lead to autism.

The agency and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) announced renewed funding for The University of California/Davis’s Centre for Children’s Environmental Health (CCEH) last week.

George Gray, agency assistant administrator for the office of research and development, said: “It is part of EPA’s mission to protect even the most vulnerable members of our society. Autism is a serious developmental problem affecting over one million children.

“Therefore, EPA is pleased to fund the UC Davis Centre that brings together high calibre scientists from many disciplines to address key needs in research, assessment, treatment and outreach.”

The centre will investigate how genes and exposure to environmental chemicals during foetal development may play a role in the development of autism.

It will support three projects in partnership with the university’s internationally recognized M.I.N.D. Institute in Sacramento, California, which carries out research into neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism.

Previously health problems were put down to a single cause such a virus, genetics or traumatic injury.

But emerging theories suggest many diseases are influenced by multiple environment and genes factors and interactions between the two.

Several childhood ailments have no obvious explanation, including asthma, allergies and autism.

Estimates show there could be up to 1.5 million people in the United States with autism, a disorder defined by a lack of social and communication skills, limited capacity for language and repetitive patterns of behaviour.

The causes are largely unknown although recurrence within families supports a strong genetic component, scientists say.

The centre aims to find out how chemicals toxic to developing nervous and immune systems contribute to the abnormal development of social behaviour in children in a bid to find ways to stop it.

David Gibbs

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