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Stuttering may be family disorder, says new study

For more than a century, experts have vied to explain the cause of stuttering, the socially disabling speech disorder.

Theories have ranged from over-anxious parents reacting negatively to their child's developing speech to left-handed children being forced to write with their right hand.

Now scientists have found that in almost one in 10 cases may be an inherited metabolic disorder that could potentially be treated with drugs.

Researchers have identified three genes which control the breakdown and recycling of substances in cells in key regions of the brain linked with speech. Two of the genes have already been linked to a serious metabolic disorder known as mucolipidosis, caused by an enzyme deficiency which has severe effects on the development of the heart, lungs, liver and joints.

Some cases of the disorder can be treated with injections of enzymes and the researchers speculate that similar enzyme replacement therapy might be used to treat stuttering too.

Michael Palin based the stuttering character Ken in A Fish Called Wanda on his father, who suffered from stammering all his life. Palin Jnr was not affected, though he is widely thought to have been. But he gave his name to the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children, founded in 1993.