Researchers work to gather DNA samples to learn more about genetics of autism

Mother of 2 daughters with autism tries to get word out about Spark program


DETROIT – Researchers across the United States are involved in solving one of the greatest challenges in autism research: collecting DNA samples from more than 50,000 people affected by the disorder.

While advances have occurred in autism research, there's so much still unknown. It appears that hundreds of genes play a role in autism, but the exact mechanism and possible treatments are only going to be identified after researchers look at an enormous number of individuals.

"Both of our daughters are amazing people," Cammie Wollner said. "I wish I could take away some of their challenges, but I wouldn't change who they are as people."

Wollner is the mother of two daughters -- Tessie and Maggie -- who are on the autism spectrum. She wants to help get the word out about an ongoing program to advance the understanding of autism: the Spark program.

Wollner lives in a busy household, but she said she always makes time for her children, whether it's dashing off to the next therapy session or participating in research to advance their understanding of autism.

She found out about the Spark program from the Autism Lab at MSU Facebook page. She's hoping to help others by getting her daughters' DNA into the system.

"Potentially helping people identify one of the causes for autism," Wollner said.

Spark has been around for two years. The program collects saliva from a person with autism and runs the DNA information through a database to try to identify the genetics of the disorder.

The No. 1 goal is to get as many people as possible across the country to register.

"The second goal is to identify genetic profiles in families with autism," Dr. Latha Soorya said.

Soorya has been working with the autism community for more than 20 years. She said research is important because autism is unique in each person.

"This has led to targeted treatments that either modify their genetic conditions or behavioral treatments that we know people will respond to," Soorya said.

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