BATON ROUGE, La (press release) – Emerge is launching a collaboration with Geisinger in Pennsylvania to be a part of 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.

Emerge is one of a select group of leading national research institutions to assist with recruitment. The SPARK effort is being led locally by Deanna Whittle, CEO of The Emerge Center, and her team at Emerge.

“SPARK empowers researchers to make new discoveries that will ultimately lead to the development of new supports and treatments to improve lives, which makes it one of the most insightful research endeavors to date, in addition to being the largest genetic research initiative in the U.S.,” says Deanna Whittle.

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.

“Emerge is the only clinical site in Louisiana for SPARK and we are honored to participate in this important national study,” said Deanna Whittle. “We look forward to playing our part in advancing understanding of autism.”

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/Emerge, or contact Emerge via SPARK@emergela.org or 225-663-6936.