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Emory joins launch of SPARK, the nation's largest autism research study

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Children at the Walden School at the Emory Autism Center

Anyone interested in learning more about SPARK or in participating can visit or call the Emory Autism Center at 404-727-8350.

The Emory Autism Center today helped launch SPARK, a research initiative designed to become the largest autism study ever undertaken in the United States. Sponsored by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI), SPARK will collect information and DNA for genetic analysis from 50,000 individuals with autism — and their families — to advance our understanding of the causes of this condition and to hasten the discovery of supports and treatments.

The Emory Autism Center is one of a select group of 21 leading national research institutions chosen by SFARI to assist with recruitment. The SPARK effort in Atlanta is being led locally by Catherine Rice, PhD, director of the Emory Autism Center.

"We know there are many people and families affected by autism spectrum disorder who need help and support today. Partnering with SPARK for research that could ultimately lead to interventions that decrease challenging symptoms of autism and improve functioning is very important to advancing our understanding of autism for tomorrow," says Rice.

Autism is known to have a strong genetic component. To date, approximately 50 genes have been identified that almost certainly play a role in autism, and scientists estimate that an additional 300 or more are involved. By studying these genes, associated biological mechanisms and how genetics interact with environmental factors, researchers can better understand the condition’s causes, and link them to the spectrum of symptoms, skills and challenges of those affected.

SPARK aims to speed up autism research by inviting participation from this large, diverse autism community, with the goal of including individuals with a professional diagnosis of autism of both sexes and all ages, backgrounds, races, geographic locations and socioeconomic situations.

Registration for SPARK can be done entirely online in the convenience of one’s home and at no cost. DNA will be collected via saliva kits shipped directly to participants.

SPARK will connect participants to researchers, offering them the unique opportunity to impact the future of autism research by joining any of the multiple studies offered through SPARK. In addition, SPARK will also elicit feedback from individuals and parents of children with autism to develop a robust research agenda that is meaningful for them.

Anyone interested in learning more about SPARK or in participating can visit or call the Emory Autism Center at 404-727-8350.

About the Emory Autism Center

The Emory Autism Center is a component of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Emory University School of Medicine. Established in 1991 as a public, private and University collaboration, the center has become a national model providing clinical, educational and medical supports to individuals with autism (ages 15 months through adulthood); providing instructive guidance to their family members; providing training to educators and professionals interested in learning how to better support children and adults with ASD; and providing engaging learning experiences to those in the community who wish to create an inclusive society where one's strengths are valued.


SPARK (Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge) is a national autism research initiative that will connect individuals with a professional diagnosis of autism and their biological family members to research opportunities to advance our understanding of autism. SPARK’s goal in doing so is not only to better understand autism, but to accelerate the development of new treatments and supports. SPARK was designed to be easily accessible to the entire autism community and was fashioned with input from adults with autism, parents, researchers, clinicians, service providers and advocates.

SPARK is entirely funded by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI).

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