Autism Speaks, the world's leading autism science and advocacy organization, is proud to announce the release of biological and clinical data from 383 new families participating in Autism Speaks Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE) to researchers. AGRE is a resource for scientists that is comprised of clinical and biological data from families who have two or more children on the autism spectrum. These 383 families are part of a larger pool of 653 individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) bringing the total data available on people with an ASD to 3348. The family data also includes family members without an ASD bringing the total to 9335 individuals, which reflects an over 24 percent increase.
"One of the biggest challenges for researchers is trying to recruit families and gather information for their research in a timely manner," said Autism Speaks Vice President of Clinical Affairs Clara Lajonchere. "AGRE accelerates the pace of research by taking these time-consuming steps out of the hands of researchers, so they can spend their time and effort analyzing the data and looking for answers now." AGRE's job has been to gather DNA, clinical, and medical information from families throughout the United States, making it the world's first collaborative resource for autism research worldwide.
Thus far, the data collected and made available by AGRE has resulted in 205 significant research publications. One example of the exciting research being done with AGRE data is a study published in 2011 that found that pregnancy and the birth environment may affect development of autism in twins. The ground breaking study suggested that environmental influences, which could include parental age, low birth weight, multiple births, and maternal infections during pregnancy, may greatly increase risk for ASD. The findings support the notion that both genetic and shared environmental factors significantly increase risk for ASD: an estimated 38 percent of risk being associated with genetic heritability and 58 percent with the environment that twins share during pregnancy and perhaps early infancy. The study also found that the relative contributions of shared genes and shared environment are similar for males and females.