SPARK is a project sponsored by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI). The overall mission of SFARI is to improve the understanding, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders by supporting innovative research of the highest quality and relevance.
SFARI was launched in 2003 by the Simons Foundation to bring more high-quality scientists into the field of autism research. Today, with a budget of $75 million per year, SFARI supports over 250 autism researchers in the U.S. and around the world. These scientists work in a range of scientific fields including genetics, neuroscience and clinical research. SFARI was an early leader in the study of the genetics of autism. Seeing a need to create a large genetic data set of autism families available to all researchers, SFARI launched the Simons Simplex Collection in 2006 and gathered genetic and other information on nearly 3,000 autism families. Data from the Simons Simplex Collection has yielded many important advances in the genetic basis of autism.
Another SFARI initiative is Simons Searchlight, which aims to better understand genetic neurodevelopmental conditions, specifically those associated with autism. Simons Searchlight collects family, medical, developmental and behavioral information through online surveys and phone interviews with families and individuals. Simons Searchlight families can connect with other families with the same genetic diagnosis. They may also have the chance to connect with researchers and participate in additional studies to advance the understanding of their genetic changes. Simons Searchlight, previously named Simons Variation in Individuals Project (Simons VIP), has been working with families for more than a decade.
SPARK is the next step in SFARI’s effort to advance autism research. Autism is a complex and varied condition that will require genetic analysis of tens of thousands of families not only to further genetic understanding but to gather important behavioral and medical information from all types of families impacted by autism. While one of SPARK’s goals is to advance science, our other immediate goal is to provide useful resources for those impacted by autism.
If you would like to learn more about SFARI’s projects and the autism research it supports, please visit SFARI.org.