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Posted 02.12.08


$1.6 million grant to MU's Thompson Center to gather DNA data for autism research

COLUMBIA, MO - The University of Missouri's Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders is now part of a groundbreaking international effort to search for the causes of autism. A $1.6 million grant from The Simmons Foundation makes the Thompson Center one of 12 university-based clinics to be part of the Simmons Simplex Collection project -- the largest effort at gathering DNA samples from patients with autism and their families.

Judith Miles.According to The Simmons Foundation -- a New York based philanthropic organization -- the Simmons Simplex Collection is a bold, new initiative to search for the causes of autism by collecting DNA samples at 12 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.

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Recent scientific findings suggest that there may be many forms of autism. There are core disorders 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, 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 discovered childhood leukemia was a number of different disorders requiring different treatment strategies, the cure rate improved to 90 percent. This is what we want to do with autism."

According to Miles, there has never been a comprehensive database that provides so much uniform data. The DNA gathered through the Simmons Simplex Collection will be stored at a central repository and distributed to qualified investigators throughout the world. It will include data collected on more than 3,000 families from across North America.

"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 Stephen Kanne, co-investigator for the project and assistant professor of health psychology in the MU School of Health Professions.

The grant requires the Thompson Center to provide 100 DNA samples to the Simmons Simplex Collection each year for three years. The other sites involved in the project are: Baylor University; Columbia University; Emory University; Harvard University; McGill University in Montreal; the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); the University of Illinois-Chicago; the University of Michigan; Vanderbilt University; Washington University; and Yale University.

"We are thrilled to be part of the Simmons consortium, which brings together the best autism research centers in North America," said Janet Farmer, 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 comprehend autism."



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