The University of Iowa is participating in what researchers are calling the largest-ever genetic study of autism. They’re looking for 50,000 participants nationwide.
The study is being conducted by the New York-based Simons Foundation, which funds scientific research. The UI Carver College of Medicine is one of 25 sites across the country recruiting families to participate. An assistant professor of psychiatry, Jacob Michaelson, is the lead investigator in Iowa and says the project aims to gather genetic samples to help determine the causes of autism.
“One aspect that remains sort of hidden from a parent’s view is actually the underlying biology of what influences the way your child behaves,” he says.
Michaelson says he tells parents that understanding the scientific reasons for autism removes the fear connected to uncertainty. He says parents of autistic children should want to get involved as a contribution to science.
“A lot of the families we talk to feel kind of empowered by being involved in research," he says. "They feel a sort of sense of altruism that I’m doing something that maybe other people can benefit from.”
The study is known by the acronym SPARK.