5|25: Celebrating Five Years of Autism Science Day 7: AGRE Reaches Milestones
In honor of the anniversary of Autism Speaks’ founding on Feb 25, for the next 25 days we will be sharing stories about the many significant scientific advances that have occurred during our first five years together. Our seventh item, AGRE Reaches Milestones, is from Autism Speaks’ Top 10 Autism Research Events of 2007.
Created in 1997 by Cure Autism Now/Autism Speaks, the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE) remains one of the most powerful resources for autism research. AGRE is a nation-wide family registry and biomaterials repository that recruits families with at least two members with an autism spectrum disorder. Biological samples (blood, plasma and DNA) are collected along with the accompanying clinical data and made available to AGRE-approved researchers all over the globe. As of December 2007, this open-access, collaborative resource contained information on over 1600 families with autism, making it the largest privately maintained autism repository in the world.As parents know, the research process can be frustratingly slow. AGRE significantly speeds up the process by providing researchers with the necessary materials and information to test a diversity of hypotheses without having to recruit families or collect their own data. Furthermore, having such a large database of sample data provides researchers with more meaningful insight into the disorder. The impact has been enormous. This summer AGRE reached a publication milestone, when the 100th paper citing use of the resource was released. As recognition of this remarkable contribution and the pivotal role of AGRE in advancing autism research, in September 2007 the National Institute of Mental Health awarded an $8.4 million grant to the University of Southern California that will provide funding to support AGRE with the next five years of data collection.
The AGRE program provides families with a means to get involved and positively contribute to autism research. A better understanding of autism will require different scientific approaches and even greater numbers of families. This year scientists studying other complex disorders such as diabetes and heart disease found that sample sizes on the order of tens of thousands of affected individuals were required before common disease genes could be detected. Continued expansion of AGRE and other collections like it will be necessary to reach these goals as fast as possible.
Did you know?: The AGRE collection continues to be the largest private source of genetic and clinical information for autism research available to scientists worldwide, containing information on over 2100 families with autism as of January 2010. AGRE is now responsible for 162 peer-reviewed publications and has been used in most of the major autism genetic discoveries to date. It is currently facilitating 11 collaborations with outside researchers and supports six federal grants. One of these grants was awarded to Autism Speaks by the NIH as part of the 2009 stimulus funding. This new grant will allow AGRE and the NIH to enter a partnership to help build a larger and more flexible national database for autism research.