Highly Detailed Autism Study Launches

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Since 2002, scientists have watched autism diagnoses soar 120%. As this number continues to increase, researchers are now hoping to find a better understanding behind these figures.

Though autism was first diagnosed in the early 1900s, treatment comes in the form of individual-based therapy; there is no given “cure”. Researchers have speculated the genetic origins of autism – fighting to find methods that can identify the cause. In the wake of these skyrocketing diagnoses, Kaiser Permanente, a California-based health organization, hopes to make a difference by conducting the largest-scale research on genetics to date.

Never before has a study this wide been conducted on the basis of autism research. The project, made possible by nearly 5,000 volunteer families from the Northern California region, will hopefully shed light on the circumstances influencing autism.

Many people theorize that autism has a basis in both genetic and environmental factors. The study, lasting an estimated three years, will give a detailed look into these factors involving medical background, genetics, and environment. A $4.6 million grant, generously given by the Simons Foundation, will fund the study.

To qualify, participants in the study must have two birth parents who have a child with autism under the age of 26. The family members must also belong to the Kaiser foundation.

Pre-existing medical information for these families, having already been in the Kaiser data system, will allow the study to be very in-depth. The study also requires little to no invasion of patient privacy, subjecting the participants only to blood or saliva samples, as well as a quick survey regarding family history.

Those involved in the project are eager to delve into the study and hopefully surface with answers to a growing diagnosis. The opportunity for such a large community to assist others who have faced the same challenges is not only scientifically beneficial, but will bring families closer than ever with the hope for new treatments. The greater the participant count, the more information that the Kaiser Foundation hopes to acquire and put to use.

Answers are needed to assist the growing autism population. With the participation of thousands, researchers with this study hope to pinpoint a collective treatment.

By Kathleen O’Toole, University of Maine

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