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Specific Language Impairment affects hundreds of thousands of British children, and causes them to have difficulties speaking and understanding language. Dr Dianne Newbury is looking into how genetics might contribute to these problems, and how that may help us develop better ways to help children cope.

Unlike common speech and language disorders, Specific Language Impairment (SLI), is the impairment of acquisition and language use, which is severe, persistent and often unexpected. SLI is hereditary and is typical of a complex genetic disorder, where certain combinations of functional variants result in less efficient biological processes.

Complex genetic disorders are caused by interactions between multiple normal genetic and environment factors; the more of genetic 'risk' variants an individual carries, the more likely they are to develop the disorder. Although complex disorders cannot be 'corrected', the risk can often be modified by environment.

Gene mapping for SLI has been made possible through the use of several methods: linkage, association and whole genome sequencing, and studies have recently been conducted on 300 UK families. Such studies will help to identify contributory variations and gene mutations, which will allow scientists to understand what kinds of developmental processes are important in SLI.

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Dr Dianne Newbury

Dr Dianne Newbury is looking for the genes that predispose to Specific Language Impairment, a complex genetic disorder. Two regions, located on chromosomes 16 and 19, are linked with this disorder. Interactions between several normal genetic variants and environmental factors make certain individuals more vulnerable to language problems.

Science Oxford Live

In spring 2013, the Nuffield Department of Medicine teamed up with Science Oxford Live for their Healthy Season. This engaging and interactive series of evening lectures exploring health, disease, genetics, drug discovery and some of the most topical challenges facing science and medicine today, was a great success.