Wayne State professor's 'groundbreaking' research gives 'new hope' to people with stutters

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DETROIT (WWJ) – There’s new hope for people with developmental stutters, thanks to a new genetic discovery by a team of researchers, including a professor at Wayne State University in Detroit.

Dr. Shelly Jo Kraft, an associate professor of speech-language pathology and audiology at Wayne State, is part of the team that made the breakthrough, discovering three new genetic variations associated with stuttering.

The researchers believe the study has "the potential to identify therapeutic directions that could improve outcomes for people who stutter."

More than 2.5 million Americans have the chronic condition arising in early childhood that can negatively impact their education, job performance and employability well into adulthood, according to a team led by Kraft and Dr. Jennifer (Piper) Below of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

Scientists say “there is no known cure and existing treatments are often minimally effective,” but this “groundbreaking” research brings new hope for better treatments for the condition.

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In two papers published in early December, Kraft and Below describe a “genetic architecture” for developmental stuttering and report the discovery of new genetic variations associated with the condition.

Kraft and Below utilized a key resource from the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in their discoveries – BioVU, one of the world’s largest repositories of human DNA linked to searchable, electronic health information.

Kraft tells WWJ Health Reporter Dr. Deanna Lites that “having genes that have been identified for stuttering populationwide really can give peace of mind” to those with stutters or parents who have children with stutters.

“This is not something you caused, it’s nothing that a circumstance in life caused,” Kraft said. “This is genetic in nature and for people who stutter, it answers that question of ‘why me, and what’s happening?’”

Kraft and Below met at the University of Chicago in 2010 and over the years were able to collect blood and saliva samples for genetic studies from more than 1,800 people who stutter, with the help of colleagues across the U.S. and in Ireland, England, Israel, Sweden and Australia.

But while that effort – called the International Stuttering Project – identified new genetic variations, or variants, associated with developmental stuttering, there simply were not enough people in the studies. The use of the BioVU database helped expand the studies and led to the groundbreaking discoveries.