Clues in the DNA
MU’s Thompson Center lands $1.6 million grant to search for autism causes
COLUMBIA, Mo. – The University of Missouri’s Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders is helping lead a groundbreaking international effort to search for the causes of autism. A $1.6 million grant from The Simons Foundation makes the Thompson Center one of thirteen university-based centers to be part of the Simons Simplex Collection project — the largest effort at gathering DNA samples from patients with autism and their families.
The Simons Simplex Collection is a bold, new initiative to search for the causes of autism by collecting DNA samples at 13 sites from families with just one child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This initiative is different from past projects because it is focused on families with just one child with autism, called simplex families. The Simons Simplex Collection is a project of The Simons Foundation, a New York based philanthropic organization seeking to advance research in science and mathematics.
Recent scientific findings suggest that there may be many forms of autism. There are core deficits that define Autism Spectrum Disorders, yet there is a great deal of variation in the behaviors and level of functioning among children and adults with some form of ASD.
“Autism is a collection of often quite distinct disorders that people have just lumped together in the past,” said Judith Miles, MD, PHD, William S. Thompson Chair in Autism and Principal Investigator for the project. “In the 1970s every child with leukemia was treated the same way and very few survived. However, when we figured out childhood leukemia was a number of different disorders requiring different treatment strategies, the cure rate improved to 90%. This is what we want to do with autism.”
To pick out distinct autism subgroups, the Simons Simplex project has developed the most comprehensive database of uniform information which will be collected on more than 3,000 families from across North America. Dr. Miles will concentrate on the medical and family data. Her colleague at the Thompson Center, Stephen Kanne, PhD, will act as co-investigator and perform a battery of autism, cognitive and behavioral tests.
“Using state of the art, gold-standard measures in a very rigorous assessment will help us accurately characterize these children, and will assist quality research regarding the mechanisms and causes of autism,” said Dr. Kanne.
All participating families will supply blood samples for DNA studies which will be stored at a central repository and made available to qualified investigators throughout the world.
“We are thrilled to be part of the Simons consortium which brings together the best autism research centers in North America,” said Janet Farmer, Ph.D., ABPP, co-director of the Thompson Center. “Each center was chosen because it brings a special area of expertise. This is the kind of cooperative research that is needed to figure out autism.”
The grant requires the Thompson Center to provide comprehensive data and blood samples on at least 100 families each year for three years. The center is actively recruiting families who have one child with autism between the ages of four and seventeen, at least one unaffected sibling and both biological parents able to participate. All testing is performed free of charge for the families and they will be compensated with a small stipend. Other sites in the project are: University of Michigan, Yale University, Columbia University; Emory University; Harvard University; McGill University in Montreal; the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); the University of Illinois-Chicago; Vanderbilt University and Washington University.
This study is funded by the Simons Foundation to examine genetic factors associated with autism spectrum disorders. The purpose of this research is to understand the causes of autism when there is only one child in the family who has autism. Thirteen research sites in the U.S. and Canada will do assessments of children with autism and their family members. The study includes interviews, surveys, physical exams and a blood draw.
Eligibility requirements: Children between the ages of 4 and 17, diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder with one unaffected sibling over the age of 4. Participation of both parents is required.
Time required: Approximately 16 hours (10-12 hours of this time is for completing forms which can be done from home)
Location: Thompson Center, University of Missouri
Monetary compensation: Yes (gift certificate)
Contact person: Nicole Takahashi, 573-884-1893, email@example.com
Research study directors: Judith Miles, MD, PhD; Steve Kanne, PhD