MINNETONKA, Minn. — The Minnesota Autism Center and the U of M are looking for children diagnosed with autism and their families to participate in a significant study.

SPARK has a simple mission: to speed up research and advance the understanding of autism.

According the center's findings, Minnesota is higher than the national average with 1 in 42 children diagnosed with autism; the national average is 1 in 59. SPARK is the largest autism study ever done in the U.S. with the goal of building a community of 50,000 people with autism and their families. One of the research scientists, Suma Jacob with the University of Minnesota, who collaborates with The Minnesota Autism Center, said they need that number of participants in order to have a better understanding of the many different causes of autism.

"We're studying a whole different number of genetic regions. Currently over 150 regions are being looked at and some things can be very rare," Jacob recalled.

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An important part of SPARK is the collection of genetic information. Scientists analyze the data to improve what they know about the role of specific genes that have an impact on the development of autism.

"We like having families participate, parents and children, sometimes siblings because at this point we can tell if it's spontaneous and a new mutation that occurred or if it's something that's inherited," Jacob said.

The researcher also mentioned that some siblings want to know their risk for passing on some of these genes. Families have access to all of that information.

Participants also get more access to clinicians and educational resources. Jacob said, "it's a very unique study, the first unique study that I've ever done as a physician and autism researcher that the information circles all the way back to the family."

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Another unique aspect of the study is that data is collected with saliva. There's no blood drawn, which was the way older autism studies worked.

"They can do it in their own home if they want and our team is willing to meet them somewhere to collect it, especially if it's not easy to collect. We can also speed up the process for them and if they meet us, they can do beginning to end of the study in under 40 minutes and get everything in and mailed off," Jacob said.

To learn more about SPARK and register online, visit www.SPARKforAutism.org/UMinnesota. All data provided to SPARK will be stored without any identifying information and kept confidential.