Unravelling the genetics of stuttering

Professor Sheena Reilly

 Australian researchers seeking QLD volunteers for nation’s largest ever ‘Genetics of Stuttering Study’

Researchers from the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Speech and Language are calling for Queenslanders aged seven and above with experience of stuttering (past or present) to volunteer for the nation’s largest ever ‘Genetics of Stuttering Study’.

Three thousand Australian volunteers are required for the study. The study aims to pinpoint the genes that predispose individuals to stuttering, which could revolutionise future research into the causes, treatment and prevention of the disorder.

Co-chief investigator, NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence for Speech & Language Genetics of Stuttering Study, Speech Pathologist, and Pro Vice Chancellor (Health) at Griffith University, Professor Sheena Reilly says the study outcomes may open the door for new treatment opportunities for stuttering in the future.

Finding the genes

“Finding genes associated with stuttering will help identify biological pathways involved and unveil new therapeutic opportunities to treat the disorder,” says Professor Reilly, is also from Griffith’s Menzies Health Institute Queensland.

“By volunteering for this research study, participants will be helping us to identify these genes.

“Participation in this study will ultimately help to shed light on how to best treat stuttering before it affects an individual’s confidence and quality of life.”

Stuttering affects people from all backgrounds, intelligence levels, and personalities. It typically emerging between two-to-four years of age, after children have already begun to speak, around four per cent of young children experience a phase during which they prolong words, or “get stuck” trying to talk.

Although the exact cause of stuttering is unknown, genetics does play a role in the disorder, with a number of genetic mutations identified to date.

Winner of The Voice 2013 who has lived with stuttering since childhood, Harrison Craig, Melbourne, is teaming with study researchers and those who stutter nationwide, to lend his voice to this worthy cause.

The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Griffith University and the University of Melbourne are coordinating the Australian arm of this international study which involves 10 investigators at eight sites in Australia, the UK and The Netherlands. Recruitment closes December 2019.

According to Professor Angela Morgan, Co-Chief Study Investigator, speech pathologist and NHMRC Practitioner Fellow, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Melbourne, boys and girls aged seven and above, together with men and women nationwide who have a history of stuttering, may volunteer for the study.

“We are urgently seeking volunteers for our ground-breaking ‘Genetics of Stuttering Study’. Participation in our study is free and easy. Volunteers simply complete a 10-minute online survey and record a short sample of their speech. Those who qualify will be invited to provide a saliva sample for DNA analysis, to enable researchers to unravel the genes that predispose people to stuttering. Study participants will be making a genuine contribution to solving this disorder.”

Stuttering is a disability that affects normal verbal fluency, and verbal communication – particularly the rhythm or flow of speech. Although the exact cause of stuttering is unknown, genetics has been found to play a role, and a number of genetic mutations have been identified to date.

Queensland residents who currently stutter, or have a history of stuttering, and wish to volunteer for the ‘Genetics of Stuttering Study,’ or to learn more, can head to www.geneticsofstutteringstudy.org.au or email geneticsofspeech@mcri.edu.au