The University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) is one of only 21 institutions participating in the nation's largest-ever genetic study of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Collectively, researchers with the SPARK (Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge) study will recruit from across the United States 50,000 participants and families--with approximately 1,500 of those from Mississippi--and collect data, such as their DNA and family medical histories, to look for possible genetic contributors to ASD.
Robert Annett, professor of pediatrics, is spearheading this three-year study at UMMC through its Children's of Mississippi Center for Advancement of Youth. "SPARK's goal is to build a registry of genetic information from individuals with autism and their families," he explains. "The results will be important for identifying the causes of autism and informing treatment-related studies in the future."
Because this is such a massive research effort, subject matters will be more expansive and can then be organized into smaller subtypes, allowing for more, concise studies.
"The intent is to have a better understanding of the subtypes of autism," says Annett. "With this genetic information, we may be able to predict how these subtypes respond to different therapies or medications."
"Given the vast range of socioeconomic, racial, and cultural backgrounds of Mississippi families, UMMC will be a key player in bringing an important diversity to SPARK," says UMMC's Dustin Sarver, assistant professor of pediatrics and SPARK co-investigator. "Genetic studies historically have been overwhelmingly homogenous and Caucasian, and this problem significantly limits the applicability of genetic research to individuals from more diverse backgrounds."
While new therapies or treatments resulting from the SPARK study may be 10 to 15 years away, this groundbreaking project is designed to dramatically speed up the research process and, hopefully, unlock the unknown causes of autism. "Our ultimate goal," adds Annett, "is to improve the quality of life for people with ASD."
Visit sparkforautism.org or umc.edu for more information.