The Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) launched the Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge (SPARK) today, an online campaign that will lead to the largest autism study in the United States.

SPARK is looking for 50,000 individuals diagnosed with autism. The online initiative will collect DNA as well as information from these individuals and their families. The good news is that you can participate!

Findings from this study aim to better analyze the cause of autism as well as speed up the developments of new therapies, treatments and support systems that can help families living with the condition.

To date, researchers have identified about 50 genes that are involved in autism. Scientists are also estimating that approximately 300 more genes play a role in its development.

Through SPARK, experts aim to study the biological mechanisms involved in autism as well as the impacts of genetics' interaction with environmental factors.

"Knowledge is power, and SPARK was created because we simply haven't learned enough about the genetics and other possible causes of autism," said Wendy Chung, SPARK's chief investigator and SFARI's clinical research director. "Together, we can 'spark' a movement in autism research."

Under SPARK, there are several studies that interested parties can become involved in and this initiative will connect these participants to the researchers.

SFARI partnered with 21 clinical sites affiliated by participating universities as well as various local and national autism organizations.

The list of university-affiliated clinical sites includes the University of California, Davis MIND Institute, University of Minnesota and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to name a few. Autism Science Foundation, Mid-Michigan Autism Association and Autism Society the Heartland are also part of the several partner organizations.

These sites and groups are currently recruiting participants for this historical autism study. To join, interested parties can create an account on the SPARK website to kick off their journey.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 68 American children have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). About 1 in 42 boys are diagnosed with ASD compared to 1 in 189 among girls.

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