Study to probe genetics of stuttering

Singer Harrison Craig will take part in an international study into the genetics of stuttering.
Singer Harrison Craig will take part in an international study into the genetics of stuttering.

Singer Harrison Craig is lending his voice to a large Australian-led international study aimed at unlocking the mysteries of stuttering.

The winner of the 2013 season of reality TV competition The Voice has lived with a stutter since the age of four, and can vividly recall the anxiety he experienced when speaking publicly or in social situations.

Having already undergone rigorous treatment to learn how to control his stutter, Craig concedes he may never be free of the speech impairment.

"My treatment to date, has been effective to a degree, but I'm not sure free speech will ever come naturally to me," the 23-year-old said.

"The truth is, to simply speak in social situations can be very exhausting," he said.

However, the talented singer is still full of faith that researchers will find a way to unlock the links between the human brain and stuttering, which is why he is volunteering to take part in the Genetics of Stuttering Study being led by researchers from the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Speech.

The study aims to pinpoint the genes that predispose individuals to stuttering, which could revolutionise future research into the causes, treatment and prevention of the disorder.

Speech pathologist and research fellow, Professor Angela Morgan says genetics has been found to play a role, and a number of genetic variants have been identified to date.

"Globally, one per cent of adults stutter, and nearly 70 per cent of people who stutter report a family history of the disorder," said Prof Morgan.

Gender is also one of the strongest predisposing factors for stuttering, said Professor Morgan.

"Boys are two-to-five times more likely to stutter than girls, and they are also less likely to recover spontaneously," she said.

For the study, researchers are seeking 3000 Australians over the age of seven with an experience of stuttering, past or present.

Volunteers simply complete a 10-minute online survey and record a short sample of their speech.

Those who qualify will be invited to provide a saliva sample for DNA analysis, to enable researchers to unravel the genes that predispose people to stuttering.

"Study participants will be making a genuine contribution to solving this disorder," Professor Morgan said.

To volunteer people can go to www.geneticsofstutteringstudy.org.au

Australian Associated Press