June 2010- Fish and autism don’t seem to go together. Fish, especially the zebrafish we use in research here at the IGM, are small and nearly transparent. Their development and growth are fast and predictable. On the other hand, the autism spectrum disorders are a large, complex and somewhat opaque group of confounding conditions for which researchers have only just begun to identify some potential causes. Progress, particularly from the point of view of parents of affected children, has been slow.
Zebrafish are a fantastic model system in which we can quickly study and gain a better understanding of large regions of DNA that do not code for protein. Several groups here at Johns Hopkins are using zebrafish to learn more about the human genome and what it does.
Much progress has been made in autism as well, from identifying potential genetic underpinnings to early diagnosis and treatment. Researchers at the IGM and beyond—at Johns Hopkins Medicine, at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, and at our neighboring Kennedy Krieger Institute—are tackling autism from several directions in effort to speed discovery and improve treatment and outcomes.
Read on. And as always, I welcome your feedback.
David Valle, M.D.
Henry J. Knott Professor and Director
McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine