OHSU joins nation's largest autism study - KPTV - FOX 12

OHSU joins nation's largest autism study

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Researchers at OHSU will participate in the SPARK autism research project, which hopes to create a database of more than 50,000 autism cases across the U.S. (KPTV) Researchers at OHSU will participate in the SPARK autism research project, which hopes to create a database of more than 50,000 autism cases across the U.S. (KPTV)

Oregon Health and Science University is taking part in the largest autism study ever conducted in the United States, and researchers are hoping to reach out to thousands of local families.

The project is called SPARK and it aims to speed up autism research by creating a national database of individuals and families affected by autism.

This registry will help scientists searching for answers and families searching for support.

Jonathan chase was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, at 14-years-old, and is now participating in the SPARK project.

“I’m not sure what we'll accomplish and that's what I think is fascinating about this study. We’ve never done anything like this before,” Chase said. “I hope that our understanding of autism continues to grow and we find new ways to help those who come after us.”

OHSU is one of only 21 clinical sites across the country chosen to participate in SPARK.

The goal is to get 50,000 database entries nationwide, with 3,000 from the Pacific Northwest.

“To get to next level of understanding, we need a much bigger number than we have ever had access to,” OHSU professor of psychiatry Dr. Eric Fombonne explained.

Participating in SPARK does not require leaving home. Families can sign up online and will be mailed a home DNA collection kit.

“Simply they will spit into the tube, or there's a non-spitting method of collecting saliva, and send it back,” OHSU molecular and medical genetics professor Brian O’Roak said.

Researchers are especially interested in signing up families where both biological parents and even siblings participate in studies.

While the database will be a resource for researchers looking to unravel the genetic mysteries of autism, it will also be a resource for the families.

“You can imagine a hundred families from across the country who all find out their children have autism for the same reason, having them be able to talk to each other and connect with each other,” O’Roak said.

Chase, who mentors teens in the autism community, knows that dealing with the condition isn't something you have to do alone.

“When we support people with acceptance and understanding, everything changes in a positive way,” he said.

OHSU is serving as a place where people can sign up for the database and get one-on-one interaction with a coordinator.

Families can also use that online portal and learn more about the research at SPARKForAutism.org.

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