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Autism Speaks Gives $5M for Two Multi-site Genetic Studies

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Two autism studies focused on genetics and the environment and on neuro-imaging will receive $5 million under a grant from Autism Speaks, an autism advocacy and research organization.

The funding will go to "expand and link" two multi-site programs that will study over 2,000 infant siblings of children with autism who are at a high genetic risk for developing the disorder. Many of these children will be followed from conception through early childhood.

This funding will enable the two programs to expand data collection for important parts of their research, including genetic, neurobiological, diagnostic, and environmental information on the families.

One project is the Early Autism Risk Longitudinal Investigation (EARLI), which will aim to study biomarkers and autism environmental risk factors during certain developmental windows.

The EARLI project is lead by Drexel University and involves researchers from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Kaiser Permanente Division of Research, and the University of California Davis. This project will enroll and follow up to 1,200 mothers of children with autism at the start of a new pregnancy and document the development of their newborn siblings through age three.

The other project, the Infant Brain Imaging Study, will be led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and will attempt to identify brain differences in children who develop ASD by monitoring and analyzing the brain development of 544 infant siblings of children with autism.

"Both of these studies will also significantly add to our knowledge about the causes of autism by looking at the interaction between genetic susceptibility and environmental exposures," Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geraldine Dawson said in a statement. "It is our hope that this collaborative effort will facilitate early screening and hopefully lead to effective prevention and treatment strategies."

The funding will support the projects for five years.

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