Washington | Researchers have identified a gene variant that may serve as a marker for kids who are among society’s most vulnerable, paving the way for personalised treatments for such children. The findings are a step towards understanding the biology of what makes a child particularly sensitive to positive and negative environments, researchers said.
This gives us an important clue about some of the children who need help the most, said Dustin Albert, a research scientist at the Duke Centre for Child and Family Policy. The study found that children from high-risk backgrounds who also carried a certain common gene variant were extremely likely to develop serious problems as adults.
Left untreated, 75 per cent with the gene variant developed psychological problems by age 25, including alcohol abuse, substance abuse and antisocial personality disorder. The picture changed dramatically, though, when children with the gene variant participated in an intensive programme called the Fast Track Project.
After receiving support services in childhood, just 18 per cent developed psychopathology as adults. The new study suggests that children’s different levels of sensitivity are related to differences in their genomes. This is the latest finding from the Fast Track Project, a multi-faceted intervention for aggressive first-graders that ran for a decade at sites in North Carolina, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Washington.
Beginning in 1991, researchers screened nearly 10,000 kindergartners for aggressive behaviour problems, identifying nearly 900 who were at high risk, and assigning half of that group to receive intensive help. Albert said these findings could be a first step toward potential personalised treatments for some of society’s most troubled children. The study appears in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.
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