The largest study of its kind hopes to provide greater insight into why some people are more likely to develop a stutter, in a bid to develop new treatments that target the cause rather than just the symptoms.
WEHI, the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Griffith University and the University of Melbourne are coordinating the global project. University College London (UCL) will oversee the UK arm of the study, which is recruiting 1500 adults and children.
Stuttering, also known as stammering, causes frequent and significant problems with normal fluency and flow of speech. It affects one in 100 adults.
As well as experts from the UK, research teams from New Zealand, Australia, the US and the Netherlands are seeking people aged five and older who stutter, or have a history of stuttering for the Genetics of Stuttering Study.
Professor Melanie Bahlo, a Laboratory Head at WEHI and Honorary Professor at the University of Melbourne, said the condition typically emerged in children between two and four years of age after they had begun to speak.
“About 4 per cent of children experience a phase during which they prolong words or get stuck trying to talk,” Professor Bahlo said.
“Studies show that 8 per cent of three-year-olds and 11 per cent of four-year-olds stutter.”
UCL Associate Professor Frederique Liegeois said study participants would contribute to a global effort to better understand the genetics behind stuttering.
“Learning more about the genetic basis will help us identify who may be more likely to develop stammering,” she said.
Murdoch Children’s and University of Melbourne Professor Angela Morgan said although the exact cause of stuttering was unknown, genetics had been found to play a role and researchers had identified four genes that may be linked to the condition.
“Globally, 1 per cent of adults stammer and nearly 70 per cent of those who do report a family history of stammering,” she said.
But even for people where the disorder doesn’t run in the family, genetics can still be playing a role. Boys are two to five times more likely to stutter than girls and are also less likely to stop stammering without therapy.
“Many stammering treatments focus on symptoms only, without targeting the underlying causes,” Professor Morgan said.
“We hope this research will develop new therapies for those who want to access treatment to help better manage their stammer and learn to speak more easily.”
To take part in the trial, volunteers need to complete a 10-minute online survey. Those who meet the study criteria will be asked to provide a saliva sample for DNA analysis. People who stutter, both with and without a family history, are encouraged to take part.
The study is funded by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
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