Kennedy Krieger Institute Joins Launch of SPARK, Nation’s Largest Autism Research Study

Katie Willmott,'s picture
April 21, 2016
Groundbreaking initiative combines web-based registry with DNA analysis to accelerate autism research and speed discovery of treatments, supports

Baltimore, MD – Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD today helped launch SPARK, an online research initiative designed to become the largest autism study ever undertaken in the United States. Sponsored by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI), SPARK will collect information and DNA for genetic analysis from 50,000 individuals with autism — and their families — to advance our understanding of the causes of this condition and to hasten the discovery of supports and treatments.

Kennedy Krieger Institute is one of a select group of 21 leading national research institutions chosen by SFARI to assist with recruitment. The SPARK effort is being led locally by Dr. Ericka Wodka and her team at Kennedy Krieger Institute Center for Autism and Related Disorders.

“The Kennedy Krieger Institute is known for our research in autism, so we are incredibly excited to be a part of SPARK, the largest genetic autism study now underway in the U.S.” says Dr. Wodka.

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. By studying these genes, associated biological mechanisms and how genetics interact with environmental factors, researchers can better understand the condition’s causes, and link them to the spectrum of symptoms, skills and challenges of those affected.

SPARK aims to speed up autism research by inviting participation from this large, diverse autism community, with the goal of including individuals with a professional diagnosis of autism of both sexes and all ages, backgrounds, races, geographic locations and socioeconomic situations.

SPARK will connect participants to researchers, offering them the unique opportunity to impact the future of autism research by joining any of the multiple studies offered through SPARK.
The initiative will catalyze research by creating large-scale access to study participants whose DNA may be selectively analyzed for a specific scientific question of interest.

SPARK will also elicit feedback from individuals and parents of children with autism to develop a robust research agenda that is meaningful for them.

Anyone interested in learning more about SPARK or in participating can visit www.SPARKforAutism.org/KKI, or call us at 443-923-7598.

About Kennedy Krieger Institute

Internationally recognized for improving the lives of children and young adults with disorders and injuries of the brain, spinal cord and musculoskeletal system, the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD, serves more than 20,000 individuals each year through inpatient and outpatient clinics, home and community services and school-based programs. Kennedy Krieger provides a wide range of services for children with developmental concerns mild to severe, and is home to a team of investigators who are contributing to the understanding of how disorders develop while pioneering new interventions and earlier diagnosis. For more information on the Kennedy Krieger Institute, visit www.kennedykrieger.org.

About SPARK

SPARK (Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge) is a national autism research initiative that will connect individuals with a professional diagnosis of autism and their biological family members to research opportunities to advance our understanding of autism. SPARK’s goal in doing so is not only to better understand autism, but to accelerate the development of new treatments and supports.

SPARK was designed to be easily accessible to the entire autism community and was fashioned with input from adults with autism, parents, researchers, clinicians, service providers and advocates.

Registering for this first-of-its-kind initiative can be done entirely online in the convenience of one’s home and at no cost. DNA will be collected via saliva kits shipped directly to participants. Once the SPARK participant’s family has returned their saliva samples and provided some medical and family history information, the SPARK participant will receive a $50 gift card. SPARK will provide access to online resources and the latest research in autism, which may provide participants and families with valuable information to help address daily challenges.

For researchers, SPARK provides a large, well-characterized cohort of genetic, medical and behavioral data, and will result in cost-savings for researchers by reducing start-up costs for individual studies.

SPARK is entirely funded by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI).

Media Contact: 

Becky Melvin
443.923.4327 (office)
904.228.5241 (cell)
melvinb@kennedykrieger.org

Receive Updates

Stay informed with the latest news and announcements from Kennedy Krieger.

Publications

Read inspiring stories, news and updates about the Institute's patient care, research, special education, professional training, and community programs.

 

Resource Finder

 

A free resource that provides access to information and support for individuals and families living with developmental disabilities.