Newswise — Families with a loved one on the autism spectrum now have an opportunity to participate in a landmark study researching the genetics of autism. The national study is the largest autism research project to date. The goal is to better understand the role genetics play in autism and improve the lives of families impacted by it. Participants with autism will receive a $50 gift card upon completion of their study.

The project, called SPARK (Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge), is hoping to collect demographic, medical and behavioral information and DNA samples from 50,000 people with autism and their family members. In Chicago, SPARK has partnered exclusively with Rush University Medical Center (RUMC). RUMC is one of 21 leading national research institutions which have been selected by the Simons Foundation to assist with recruiting participants.

Besides the $50 gift card, autism participants and their families will also receive updates on groundbreaking autism research and information on local autism experts and resources.

The SPARK study is available to individuals of all ages, backgrounds, races, geographic locations and socioeconomic situations. With the genetic data, researchers will be able to look for relevant biological mechanisms of autism and how genetic and environmental factors interact to result in autism spectrum disorder.Autism is known to have a strong genetic component. To date, approximately 50 genes have been identified that almost certainly play a role in autism, and scientists estimate that an additional 300 or more are involved.

Here’s how it works

To participate, individuals with autism and their immediate biologic family members fill out a short, online family history form. Then they are asked to provide a DNA sample obtained with a simple cheek or gum swab. This can be done in a clinic setting at Rush or at home. Families who choose to do the test at home will receive a free saliva collection kit and when they finish the swab sample, they can mail it postage-free to a lab for analysis.

To participate in SPARK or for more information, visit, or call Katy Heerwagen at the Autism Assessment, Research, Treatment and Services Center (AARTS) at Rush at (312) 563-2765. The AARTS Center provides unparalleled expertise in diagnosis, treatment and research for individuals with autism spectrum disorder.

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