Gene(i) in the bottle

science

Ever wondered where research on stuttering comes from? The obvious answer in fact, is people who stutter. And last week, one of those people was me.

Having signed away my saliva (I’ll explain in a moment) I sat down to answer some questions about my early experiences of stuttering, and the early experiences of family members (at least those I knew of). There were questions about when I started stuttering, whether I was late in starting to talk, and the ages at which I did speech therapy - for the record, at 12yrs, 18yrs and 21 yrs with refreshers after that.

The research project is being done through ISTAR (Institute of Stuttering Treatment and Research) in Edmonton Alberta. They are a specialist treatment centre, that as part of the University of Alberta, are in this project developing our knowledge of the underlying basis of stuttering.

The raw material of knowledge

The point of this was simply to collect background information for an analysis of my DNA - my genetic raw material - that will be collected from a sample of saliva that I put into a test tube and posted off for laboratory analysis. I’m not expecting any great discovery as a result, and the analysis is not for other genetic markers that have nothing to do with stuttering. It goes into a knowledge bank, so to speak, as raw material for researchers to analyse, compare with other samples, and see if there are any genetic differences that may be linked to stuttering.

That’s just one area of basic scientific research. Another area looks at the way our brains function when speaking. Through an MRI scanner, the activity in our brains can be closely observed. The results from these studies are compared to the same research done with people who do not stutter. Other research is showing there are subtle differences in the timing of our muscles and movements when planning to speak, compared with people who do not stutter.

Why research matters

what we know about the basis of stuttering today is in fact quite different to what was known a generation ago.

It’s worth thinking for a minute about why this kind of methodical, long-term research really matters. Here’s why: what we know about the basis of stuttering today is in fact quite different to what was known a generation or two ago. Today, we know that stuttering isn’t the result of being nervous, shy or having had something upsetting happen to us when we were very young. These can be triggers for sure, but only triggers and not the underlying cause. That, we know now, is in the way our brain plans, processes and produces speech. Granted, there’s an awful lot we don’t know yet, but our underlying sense of why we stutter has changed.

So if you are glad to know that your stuttering is not the result of a personality problem, but is the result of a neurophysiological process that may have an underlying genetic basis, think about contributing to our growing knowledge base by participating in research studies. MRI, here I come.

Here’s the links to current projects looking for people to participate.

Brain research

www.stutter.ca/news/news-items/343-participants-for-a-speech-and-stuttering-project-wanted.html (recruiting until January 2015)

Genetic research

www.istar.ualberta.ca (recruiting until March 2015)

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