UCL News


UK participants needed to help discover genes behind stammering

6 October 2022

More than 1,500 adults and children from the UK are being recruited by researchers at UCL, as part of an international study aiming to discover the genes that cause stammering.

speech therapy

The UK arm of the study will be overseen by researchers at UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, and aims to provide greater insight into why some people are more likely to develop a stammer, also known as stuttering, in a bid to develop new treatments that target the cause rather than just the symptoms.

As well as experts from the UK, research teams from New Zealand, Australia, the US and the Netherlands are also seeking people aged five and older who stammer or have a history of stammering for the Genetics of Stuttering Study – making it the largest study of its kind.

Stammering, which causes frequent and significant problems with normal fluency and flow of speech, affects one in 100 adults. It typically emerges in children between two and four years of age after they have begun to speak.

Associate Professor Frederique Liegeois (UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health) said study participants would contribute to a global effort to better understand the genetics behind stammering.

She said: “Learning more about the genetic basis will help us identify who may be more likely to develop stammering. Speaking fluently is a very complex brain exercise, with many regions interacting in a precise manner. By understanding the link between gene functions and stammering, we hope to develop novel interventions that are unique to each individual.”

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI), the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Griffith University and the University of Melbourne are co-ordinating the global project.

Professor Melanie Bahlo (WEHI and the University of Melbourne) said: “About 4 per cent of children experience a phase during which they prolong words or get stuck trying to talk.

“Studies show that 8 per cent of three-year-olds and 11 per cent of four-year-olds stammer.”

Although the exact cause of stammering is unknown, researcher say that genetics have been found to play a role and have identified four genes that may be linked to the condition.

Professor Angela Morgan (Murdoch Children’s and University of Melbourne) said: “Globally, 1 per cent of adults stammer and nearly 70 per cent of those who do report a family history of stammer.

“Gender is one of the strongest predisposing factors for stammering. Boys are two to five times more likely to stutter than girls and are also less likely to stop stammering without therapy.

“Many stammering treatments focus on symptoms only, without targeting the underlying causes. We hope this research will develop new therapies for those who want to access treatment to help better manage their stammer and learn to speak more easily.”

To take part in the trial, volunteers need to complete a 10-minute online survey. Those who meet to study criteria will be asked to provide a saliva sample for DNA analysis. People who stammer, both with and without a family history, are encouraged to take part.

The study is funded by an Australian National Health and Medical Research Council grant.



Media contact 

Poppy Danby 

E: p.danby [at] ucl.ac.uk