Gift of £4m will make Oxford the leader in autism research

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The Independent Online

Oxford University is to become the world's premier research centre into the causes and treatment of autism.

An anonymous benefactor has given the university £4m to research the condition and find ways of combating it. The donation comes after recent research showed that autism, which affects one in 1,000 people, is far more common than previously thought.

The endowment will allow the university to set up a new chair in psychiatry and provide support for the post. The principal focus of the appointee's work will be to examine and research issues relating to the causes and potential cures for autism and related disorders.

Dr Ken Fleming, head of Oxford's medical sciences dDivision, said: "Cases of autism are on the increase. This is as a result of greater diagnosis but there is a genuine increase in the numbers."

Professor Guy Goodwin, head of Oxford's psychiatry department, said: "The greater our genetic understanding of the disease, the greater our chance of finding a cure." The post at Oxford University will be operational within the next nine months. It will be based at St John's College and the holder will work closely with teams across the world already studying autism.

Autism received a higher public profile after Dustin Hoffman's portrayal of a sufferer in the film Rain Man. The condition varies a great deal in severity with the most serious cases marked by extremely unusual, self-injurious and aggressive behaviour. In its mildest forms, it resembles a personality disorder associated with a learning disability.

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