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April 29, 2010

Autism research at SickKids receives a boost of more than $9 million

TORONTO – A research team co-led by Dr. Stephen Scherer, Senior Scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) was awarded an $8.9 million grant today from the Global Leadership Round in Genomics & Life Sciences (GL²), which is part of the Ontario Research Fund (ORF) by the Ministry of Research and Innovation (MRI).

Scherer, Director of The Centre for Applied Genomics at SickKids and the McLaughlin Centre at the University of Toronto, along with co-principal investigator Dr. Peter Szatmari, Vice-Chair of Research and Professor at McMaster University, are studying the genomic basis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is a neurological disorder resulting in developmental challenges connected to communication, social understanding and behaviour.

The project, called Autism Spectrum and Associated Neurodevelopmental Disorders: Genomes to Outcomes is geared towards developing new tools to screen genomes and generating cutting-edge technologies to diagnose ASD and other neurological disorders. This work builds on previous research in which the scientists had identified gene copy number differences to be involved in ASD susceptibility. In what will be the largest study of its kind, they will now be using advanced technology to sequence genes from thousands of ASD patients in Ontario.

“Our goal is to bring our gene discoveries from the research labs to clinics, which we believe will facilitate the necessary early diagnosis critical for successful intervention in ASD,” says Scherer.

Life Technologies Corporation, a global biotechnology tools company and continued partner of SickKids for its SOLiD technology, will also be a key collaborator for this research. Following today’s government announcement, the company has committed to a $700,000 investment in the form of a next-generation DNA sequencing instrument.  SickKids has previously purchased two SOLiD Systems for a variety of genomic projects.

“Life Technologies is pleased to partner with Dr. Scherer and his colleagues to support their research, which may lead to the development of new approaches for understanding complex human diseases like autism, and is proud to be collaborating with SickKids on sequencing technology that supports their research,” says John L. Miller, President, Genetic Systems Division at Life Technologies.  “The unique and superior accuracy of the SOLiD System is ideal for research targeted at elucidating the heterogeneous genetic variations implicated with ASD.  We are confident that by working together with SickKids, progress will continue to be made towards understanding the underlying genetic factors in ASD.”

Scherer notes that “this is a wonderful example of how collaboration with government and industry partners could help achieve the ultimate goal of easing the lifelong challenges faced by ASD families.”    

The government funding is part of Ontario’s $114 million commitment to genomics and gene-related research through the ORF’s GL² program.

To read more about the announcement please visit the MRI website at http://www.ontario.ca/innovation-news.

About The Hospital for Sick Children
The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is recognized as one of the world’s foremost paediatric health-care institutions and is Canada’s leading centre dedicated to advancing children’s health through the integration of patient care, research and education. Founded in 1875 and affiliated with the University of Toronto, SickKids is one of Canada’s most research-intensive hospitals and has generated discoveries that have helped children globally.  Its mission is to provide the best in complex and specialized family-centred care; pioneer scientific and clinical advancements; share expertise; foster an academic environment that nurtures health-care professionals; and champion an accessible, comprehensive and sustainable child health system.  SickKids is proud of its vision of Healthier Children. A Better World.™ For more information, please visit www.sickkids.ca

About Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning 
The Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning will bring together researchers from different scientific disciplines and a variety of clinical perspectives, to accelerate discoveries, new knowledge and their application to child health — a different concept from traditional research building designs. The facility will physically connect SickKids science, discovery and learning activities to its clinical operations. Designed by award-winning architects Diamond Schmitt Architects Inc. and HDR Inc. with a goal to achieve LEED® Gold Certification for sustainable design, the Gilgan Centre will create an architectural landmark as the eastern gateway to Toronto’s Discovery District. The Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning is funded by a grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Government of Ontario, philanthropist Peter Gilgan and community support for the ongoing fundraising campaign. For more information, please visit www.sickkidsfoundation.com/bepartofit.

For more information, please contact:

Matet Nebres
The Hospital for Sick Children
416-813-6380
matet.nebres@sickkids.ca

Suzanne Gold
The Hospital for Sick Children
416-813-7654, ext. 2059
suzanne.gold@sickkids.ca