In some cases, he's taken cells from children with Williams syndrome, but instead of using the somewhat painful procedure to obtain skin cells, he's taken cells from lost baby teeth, using a so-called Tooth Fairy extraction kit.Gage said he’s intrigued at the idea of dissecting something as complex as human behavior down to the level of cells in a petri dish.
Already, since the grant was awarded in May, Gage and his colleagues have shown that the early proliferation of brain cells is lower in people with Williams syndrome than in those with normal function.
With time and persistence, it might one day be possible to develop drugs or other therapies that could be used to treat the conditions, Gage said.
Williams syndrome is the perfect test case for studying the link between genes and behavior, Bellugi said. The disorder is very specific, occurring only when a certain cluster of genes is missing from one of two copies of chromosome 7.
“We’re only talking about something like 25 to 28 genes out of 30,000 genes in the brain,” Bellugi said. “And it’s always the same set of genes.”