SPARK, an online research initiative designed to become SPARK and OHSU logosthe largest autism study ever undertaken in the United States. Sponsored by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI), SPARK will collect information and DNA for genetic analysis from 50,000 individuals with autism —and their families —to advance our understanding of the causes of this condition and to hasten the discovery of supports and treatments. 




OHSU is one of a select group of 21 research institutions across the nation chosen by SFARI to assist with recruitment, underscoring OHSU's strength in autism and genetics research. In Oregon, the SPARK effort is led by Eric Fombonnne, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Director of Autism Research, Brian O'Roak, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Molecular & Medical Genetics, Lark Huang-Storms, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Autism Clinical Program, and their teams in the OHSU School of Medicine. Learn more about the OHSU SPARK team.

SPARK's goals

  • SPARK aims to speed up autism research by inviting participation from this large, diverse autism community, with the goal of including individuals with a professional diagnosis of autism of both sexes and all ages, backgrounds, races, geographic locations and socioeconomic situations.
  • Autism is known to have a strong genetic component. To date, approximately 50 genes have been identified that almost certainly play a role in autism, and scientists estimate that an additional 300 or more are involved. By studying these genes, associated biological mechanisms and how genetics interact with environmental factors, researchers can better understand the condition's causes, and link them to the spectrum of symptoms, skills and challenges of those affected.
  • SPARK will connect participants to researchers, offering them the unique opportunity to impact the future of autism research by joining any of the multiple studies offered through SPARK.
  • The initiative will catalyze research by creating large-scale access to study participants whose DNA may be selectively analyzed for a specific scientific question of interest.
  • SPARK will also elicit feedback from individuals and parents of children with autism to develop a robust research agenda that is meaningful for them.