SPARK, the Largest-Ever Autism Research Study in the U.S. Launches

The U.S.’ largest-ever autism research study launched Thursday.

The Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) is recruiting 50,000 individuals with autism of all ages and their families to compile genetic, behavioral and environmental information about individuals with autism. The organization partnered with 21 clinical sites across the country, including The University of Washington and the Seattle Children’s Autism Center (SCAC), which have already enrolled 300 Seattle-area families during the pilot stage of the study, called “SPARK,” the Seattle Times reported.

“We really want to involve as many families as possible where the child has been diagnosed with autism,” Raphael Bernier, a UW associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, told the Times. “We want to get every child involved.”

SPARK stands for Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge. Its mission, according to its website, is to “speed up research and advance our understanding of autism to help improve lives.” Information from the study will help identify genetic and non-genetic factors that contribute to autism spectrum disorder. According to the CDC, an estimated 1 in 68 children are on the autism spectrum.

If they consent, participants in the study share a DNA sample —  a saliva collection kit is sent to their home and then mailed to a lab for analysis. Samples can be provided by spitting in a tube or swabbing the cheeks or gums. Because this may be painful or uncomfortable for someone with autism, SPARK released a video to help demonstrate.

“While considerable advances have occurred in autism research, there is still much we don’t know,” SPARK’s website reads. “For example, recent research has shown that likely hundreds of genes play a role in autism, but not a lot is known about which environmental factors contribute to the development of the condition.”

If you are interested in participating or would like more information, head here.

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