Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Analysis of medical records reveals link between pesticides, autism

Evidence supporting the notion that environmental toxins might play a role in triggering autism, especially in young boys, has made its way into the open-access journal PLOS Computational Biology. Researchers from the University of Chicago (UoC) found that, based on an analysis covering more than 100 million U.S. medical records, a strong correlation exists between chemical-induced genital malformations in boys and significantly higher rates of autism.

The county-by-county investigation covered the entire U.S. and revealed that, for every 1 percent increase in frequency of genital malformations in a particular county, there is also a corresponding 283 percent increase in autism rates. Similarly, a 94 percent increase in intellectual disability (ID) rates was also observed for every 1 percent increase in genital malformations, particularly among boys.

"Autism appears to be strongly correlated with rate of congenital malformations of the genitals in males across the country," stated Andrey Rzhetsky, Ph.D., a professor of genetic medicine and human genetics at UoC and lead author of the new study. "This gives an indicator of environmental load and the effect is surprisingly strong."

Parental exposure to toxins increases autism risk

Seeking to better understand the relationship between environmental exposures and both cognitive and neurological function, Rzhetsky and his team decided to take a closer look at autism rates in conjunction with genital malformations. Using an insurance claims data set that covers nearly one-third of the total U.S. population, the team constructed several graphs mapping the data in order to make comparisons.

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