|NIDCD’s Dr. Dennis Drayna
Using plain English to talk about scientific advances can be a challenge, but not for NIDCD’s Dr. Dennis Drayna, chief of the section on systems biology of communication disorders. He recently described the genetics of stuttering to help launch NIDCD’s new speaker series “Beyond the Lab, Understanding Communication Disorders.”
The series offers an opportunity to learn about research advances in communication disorders—conditions that will affect about one in 6 Americans. It is intended for those who might not have training or a background in biomedical research. The goal is to present the science in ways that everyone can understand and to underscore how NIH staff play a role in advancing scientific knowledge.
Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd at the Porter Neuroscience Research Center, Drayna discussed his research focusing on several genes and the role they play in stuttering. Stuttering affects people of all ages, throughout the world, who speak any language. Roughly 3 million Americans stutter.
In 2010, Drayna and researchers in his lab, in collaboration with a group of international scientists, found the first 3 genes associated with stuttering—a common speech disorder in which sounds, syllables or words are repeated or prolonged, disrupting the normal flow of speech. Since then, Drayna’s lab has found a fourth gene directly associated with the condition.
According to Drayna, the identified genes are associated with a metabolic function that occurs in every cell in our body, but gene mutations disrupt the normal function. His working hypothesis is that there is a group of cells in the brain that are dedicated solely to speech production and are uniquely sensitive to the metabolic defect caused by these mutations. Through additional research, Drayna hopes to identify these brain cells and their function, which could provide new insights into both stuttering and normal speech.
“Understanding the role that these genes play in stuttering gives us crucial information needed to develop a cure for this disorder,” he said.
Planning for the next talk in the Beyond the Lab speaker series is under way for spring 2015.