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MI Researcher Takes Up the Genetics of Stuttering

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Wednesday, January 19, 2022   

More than 2.5 million Americans stutter at some point in their lives, and a Michigan researcher is among those learning more about the genetics of stuttering.

There is no known cure for it, but experts say newly identified genes associated with stuttering can help them find out if there are links to other conditions or possible treatments.

Shelly Jo Kraft, who directs the Behavior, Speech and Genetics lab at Wayne State University, said the new genes are helping researchers learn more about the factors that contribute to stuttering, or protect people from risk.

"We've known stuttering is inherited for a long time," she said, "but there's been a lot of community misinformation about stuttering, a lot of stigma, a lot of misconception about why someone stutters."

She said having more information about how the genes operate that lead people to stutter can help push back against those misconceptions - to show that stuttering isn't a personality trait, or caused by a traumatic event.

In addition to learning more about the genetics of stuttering, Kraft said, the research is showing that the condition is much more prevalent than once thought. At least 5% to 6% of children and 1% of adults experience stuttering, but she said that may be an undercount.

"A lot of children do stutter for a transient amount of time during childhood," she said, "and with the help of therapy, with the help of their parents and natural things that parents do in response to stuttering, the stuttering goes away."

Kraft, who has collected DNA samples from roughly 1,800 people who stutter from 250 families globally, has partnered with a research lab at Vanderbilt University to expand their reach to a worldwide repository of DNA information.

Disclosure: Wayne State University contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Education, Health Issues, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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