Landmark Study Explores Genetics of Autism
The causes of autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs social skills, remain unknown, though many scientists believe there is a genetic basis for the condition. The genetic roots of autism are currently being explored in a landmark, nation-wide study by the Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge, also known as SPARK.
According to its website, the study has attracted the support of over 20 leading medical schools and autism research centers throughout the U.S., who are working to recruit individuals and families affected by autism. In a report this month, Chicago Tribune.com noted that the study is seeking to collect DNA samples from 50,000 people diagnosed with autism to better analyze the connection between autism and genetics. Over 17,000 families are currently enrolled in the project, according to SPARK’s website.
Holly Lechniak, a research coordinator for SPARK, acknowledged that many unanswered questions still remain when it comes to the scientific understanding of autism. “It is still a relatively new diagnosis and it is one that we are still learning a lot about,” Lechniak said, according to Chicago Tribune. “It is an incredibly heterogeneous disorder.” Lechniak added that, while genetics are not the only component of autism, they are a large one. “Most of the time there is not a single pathway to autism,” she said. “We know there is a very large genetic component often interacting with other environmental factors.” Once the DNA samples have been collected, they will be sent to a genetic lab, where they will be analyzed to determine whether there is a known genetic marker for autism in the participant’s DNA.