A multi-year, national online research program on autism, believed to be the largest ever conducted in the United States, officially launched on April 21 with the goal of getting DNA from 50,000 individuals and their families, generating an enormous amount of data for researchers to learn more about genes that can cause autism.

The Simons Foundation Autism Research Institute (SFARI) is funding and directing the research, whose project name is SPARK. Participants and researchers will collaborate via web portals. “We want to work with the community to understand their challenges and to give information back to them,” says Wendy Chung, M.D., director of clinical research at SFARI.

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