Local families needed to participate in CHOP's autism study

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Parents of children with autism have a chance to help researchers understand it better through a ground-breaking new local study.

So far, researchers have identified hundreds of genes that may increase the risk for autism, but they say there are likely thousands of genes involved.

This study aims to pinpoint those genes to help find better treatments.

Nuris Artigas Vaello, 7, is in her happy place swinging at the We Rock the Spectrum Kid's Gym.

"That's her thing. Swinging is her thing," said her father, Alex Vaello.

Her parents say Nuris has always been a happy child, but when she was around two years old, they noticed she wasn't meeting some developmental milestones. By age three she was diagnosed on the Autism spectrum.

"It was quite an experience, probably one of the toughest moments in my life," said her mother, Mary Argitas.

They got to work and started reaching out to find resources. And just recently they also enrolled in the SPARK study.

Using saliva DNA testing kits, researchers across the country aim to study the genes of 50,000 people with autism and if possible, their biological parents.

Robert Schultz is the director of the Center for Autism Research at CHOP, which is one of 25 sites involved.

"This is the largest genetic study of autism ever done so its an enormous opportunity both for researchers and for families to contribute," he said.

He says identifying more genes involved will lead to better, more specific treatments for autism.

The study is long-term, at least 5 years, but benefits for families start right away.

"So you are part of a huge SPARK network, there's a lot of resources, there's an online community, there's a lot of information shared back to the family," said Schultz.

Nuris's parents say enrolling in the study was simple. They're optimistic it will lead to better understanding.

"How it's caused, what are the steps to make it better, anything, anything can help," they said.

And they are hoping to enroll about 10,000 familes in our area.

It is free and open to people of all ages and abilities on the spectrum.

You can sign up online, go to an event or even have someone come out to your home.

For more information on the SPARK autism study, CLICK HERE.

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