UT Southwestern invests in autism research, asking for brain donations

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on June 19, 2014 at 8:49 PM

Updated Thursday, Jun 19 at 9:24 PM

DALLAS -- Tamela Kelley calls her daughter, Paige Kelley, a "diva" because she likes to be surrounded by anything and everything girly. And unlike most 22 year olds, Paige will still throw an occasional temper tantrum.

But this isn't about choice. It's about autism.

“It’s a challenge, day by day,” Tamela said.

As a mother, she desperately hopes to understand more about her daughter's disorder. Research at UT Southwestern might give her the answers she’s looking for.

Scientists there are collecting, storing, distributing, and studying the brain tissue of people with autism.

But blood draws and brain scans aren't enough, according to Dr. John Sweeney, director of the UT Southwestern Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders.

"It's especially important for us to understand it at the molecular level,” Dr. Sweeney said. “[To understand] What's happening to neurons in the brain that are altered in the course of development to cause autism, so that we can develop treatments to better target and potentially cure the illness."

This initiative will enhance studies already underway on other autism brain-related conditions. But Dr. Sweeney understands the difficulty of donating a loved one’s brain to science.

“This is a brain disorder,” Sweeney said. “Whatever the cause is, we need to understand what's wrong in the brain so we can fix it. And that has to be the focus.”

Tamela is planning ahead for the future. When Paige passes away, she wants her daughter’s brain on that list, out of love.

“If the study on her brain can help another parent and help the quality of life for that child, great,” Tamela said.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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