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MSU lands $2.1 million grant to take part in national autism study

EAST LANSING, Mich. Michigan State University has been awarded a three-year, $2.1 million federal grant to serve as the data coordinating center for the largest epidemiological study ever on autism.

MSU's Biomedical Research Informatics Core, established in 2001 and now part of the university's Clinical and Translational Science Institute, will collect and create a repository for data from nearly 3,000 families as part of the congressionally mandated Study to Explore Early Development.

"Autism is a serious disabling condition that has been estimated to occur in one in 150 children in the United States," said Phil Reed, director of MSU's BRIC and the principal investigator for the grant. "Our work with the Centers for Disease Control supports the largest study ever conducted designed to help identify factors that may put children at risk for the disease.

"For a study of this magnitude, it is vital to have strong data coordination and data security. We are pleased the CDC recognizes our center's capabilities."

The 10-year SEED study will help identify what might put children at risk for autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities. Six study sites and MSU's role as the data coordinating center make up the Centers for Autism and Developmental Disabilities Research and Epidemiology Network. The network was a result of the passage of the federal Children's Health Act of 2000. The study sites are in California, Colorado, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and at the CDC's headquarters in Atlanta.

The study is looking at three main areas:

  • Physical and behavioral characteristics of children with autism, children with other developmental disabilities and children without a developmental delay or disability noted.

  • Health conditions among children with and without autism. The study will compare children with autism to children with other developmental disabilities and children without any developmental delay or disability.

  • Factors associated with a child's risk for developing autism. Risk factors may include: genes that children get from their parents, other health conditions or pregnancy complications.

The causes of autism, a brain development disorder often affecting children before their third birthday, are not known. A large study such as this will give doctors and researchers a base of knowledge to draw on as they seeks ways to prevent and treat the condition, said Nigel Paneth, an MSU epidemiologist and co-investigator in the study.

"It is very exciting for MSU to play such a key role in the national effort to try to find the causes of autism," Paneth said.

BRIC's role includes using a Web-based data collection system created in 2005 that allows investigators to input and analyze information in real-time.

"To enable us to do this, we have built a sophisticated Internet-based system for data collection and are developing additional technical innovations in data management to handle the 100 million data elements anticipated in this study," Reed said.


Contact: Jason Cody
Michigan State University

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