With data drawn from seven countries—Denmark, Finland, Israel, Norway, Sweden, Western Australia, and data from California—researchers are determined to isolate risk factors for autism. The project, named the International Collaboration for Autism Registry Epidemiology, will aim to find a link in autism with parental age, birth weight and gestational age, and season of birth.
This type of large-pool database has its challenges, as some countries around the world hold strict restrictions on the release of such information. In addition, registries can vary across countries, so balancing these categories can be difficult. Technological details also make this project difficult, like forming a simple way for all researchers to access the data. Fortunately, there was an easy solution for this, by providing access to the data for a “given analysis session,” where the researcher can download the analysis, but it is not saved to the computer and cannot be altered. This way, there are no ethical or privacy issues regarding the data. [i]
Previous research has tried to determine these links between autism and the aforementioned factors, but not on such a large scale. Ezra Susser, professor of epidemiology and psychiatry at Columbia University, and part of the International Collaboration for Autism Registry Epidemiology, feels the analysis of this data will lead to a flow of research developments,
“One of the steps we need to take in epidemiology is what was done in genetics – to create these repositories so that you can combine samples and get much, much larger numbers. It’s where the future needs to go.”
Although the initial grant of $1.2 million, provided in 2009 for four years is coming to an end, the project’s data will continue for another five years.
[i] “Scientific American” Autism risk-factors database could aid in epidemiological studies of the disorder. 6 Aug 2013. Web. < http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=autism-risk-factors-database-could-aid-in-studies-of-the-disorder>