Due to the growing numbers of autism diagnoses in the United States, the Simons Foundation has come up with a study designed to accelerate research on the disorder.
The Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge, or SPARK for short, focuses on collecting DNA and information from both people with autism and their family members. It’s the largest study on autism ever, with researchers planning to get DNA samples from 50,000 people within three years.
While the exact cause of autism is unknown, the consensus is that it’s a combination of genetics and environmental factors. The Washington Post reports that scientists have found about 50 to 70 genes that could relate to autism so far.
However, there could be hundreds of genes that play a part, and collecting DNA samples from a large number of people is one way to identify these genes.
According to Disability Scoop, those who want to participate can go to the SPARK website to fill out an online questionnaire, which takes about 20 minutes to complete and collects family and medical history information.
Providing a DNA sample is voluntary and involves participants receiving a sample cup in the mail, which they use to provide their saliva before mailing it back.
What makes SPARK unique is the size of the foundation and the amount of people involved. The SPARK website states that it has over 20 schools and research centers that are working together to recruit people.
In the pilot phase, the study already collected samples from 2,000 people, and researchers say they’re on-track to hit their goal of 50,000. With DNA samples and questionnaire results, SPARK can make advancements in our understanding of both the genetic and environmental causes of autism.