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Gene Map of Brain Offers Hope for Alzheimer’s, Autism

A new tool for medical research, the Allen Brain Atlas, provides a three-dimensional catalog of all the genes active in the brain and has revealed clues to diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Lou Gehrig's, as well as conditions such as autism.

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  • SUSAN DENTZER, NewsHour Health Correspondent:

    Marguerite Kirst-Colston works hard with her 6-year-old son, Camden, trying as best as possible to get inside his brain.

    Camden was born with a condition called Noonan Syndrome, and also with autism. The first explains his short stature and wide-set eyes; the second, his difficulties in communicating and in social interaction.

  • MARGUERITE KIRST-COLSTON:

    The middle part of his brain, the corpus callosum, which they think is the cable system of the brain, is there, but it's small and it's thin. And so Noonan's has a big element of problems with growing, and so they wonder if the Noonan's caused the autism or if it's separate.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    Both conditions are triggered by genetic changes or mutations that affect the brain. The hope that Camden and children like him might one day be spared these diseases is why Kirst-Colston is excited about a major new tool in brain research.

    The tool is the Allen Brain Atlas, a three-dimensional catalog of all the genes active in the brain. It came about because of this man: Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul Allen.

    PAUL ALLEN, Founder, Allen Institute for Brain Science: What we've got is really a general purpose tool for anyone that wants to do any kind of brain research, if they want to look at one gene, if they want to look at a set of scenes correlated together, maybe in some disease that might end up having a genetic base.

    And in the brain, we only understand things, you know, at a small-scale and at a very large scale. You know, 95 percent of how the brain works is unknown.

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