SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – A research center at UC Davis is taking autism research to a different level.
Researchers at the MIND Institute are now examining the DNA of families whose children have autism to learn more about possible causes of the disorder.
Five-year-old Lucy Firman has a pretty packed schedule compared to most kids her age.
“She plays the piano, she goes swimming a few times a week and does therapy three days a week,” said Lucy’s mom Caroline Firman.
Lucy was diagnosed with autism at just 18 months.
“She was very attached to things in a sort of abnormal way, like swings she just wanted to swing all day,” Caroline Firman said.
Lucy’s mother says the last four years have been tough, but rewarding.
“She’s worked really hard, and we had an intervention team that would come to our house for hours for the last three years,” Firman said.
For the first time Friday, Lucy and her mom became part of a new study that could link autism to genetics.
“We know there could be a lot of genetic causes, but we’ve always had a smaller sample of participants,” said Dr. Leonard Abbeduto. Executive Director at the MIND Institute
The study aims to recruit 50,000 families to get a bigger sample, which researchers say would help them gain a better understanding of what triggers autism.
Dr. Abbeduto says the process is simple: Families can enroll online and then mail out their saliva collection kits to a lab; their DNA is then analyzed and stored for the study.
Lucy’s mom says she’s not aware of anyone who’s been diagnosed with autism from her side of the family or her husband’s side.
“Lucy is the first person diagnosed who we know of,” Firman added.
Firman says she hopes the new study will shed more light on the disorder she’s had so many questions about.
Dr. Abbeduto is hoping for the same thing, and says, “this could be a game changer to understanding what causes autism and now we can work to better tailor treatments and prevention.”
The MIND Institute has recruited over nine-thousand families so far. Researchers plan to conduct the study over the next three years.
Head here to learn more about the SPARK study for Autism, or you can call the MIND Institute at (916) 703-0299.