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Autism Speaks and BGI Collaboration to Generate World’s Largest Library of Sequenced Genomes of Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders

Whole Genome Sequencing to be Completed on 10,000 Individuals
NEW YORK, N.Y., CAMBRIDGE, M.A.and SHENZHEN, CHINA (October 13, 2011) – Autism Speaks, the world’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, and BGI, the largest genomic organizationin the world and a global leader in whole genome sequencing, jointly announce their partnership to create the world’s largest library of sequenced genomes of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Using the Autism Speaks Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE), this collaboration will perform whole genome sequencing on more than 2,000 participating families who have two or more children on the autism spectrum. The data from the 10,000 AGRE participants will enable new research in the genomics of ASD, and significantly enhance the science and technology networks of both Autism Speaks and BGI. In addition, Autism Speaks and BGI will collect and sequence genome samples from individuals in China.

“This collaboration will transform the field and greatly accelerate basic and translational research in autism and related developmental disabilities,” stated Autism Speaks Vice President for Scientific Affairs Andy Shih, Ph.D. “This collection of sequenced genomes will facilitate new collaborations engaging researchers around the world, and enable public and private entities to pursue pivotal research.”

The Autism Speaks BGI collaboration will be conducted over a two-year period. The initial pilot sequencing of 100 genomes will be directly funded by the Autism Speaks science portfolio. Additional funding will be secured from government, donors, and public and private sources.

“We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with Autism Speaks on this groundbreaking research project,” stated Prof. Yang Huanming, Chairman of BGI. “Having sequenced more than 10,000 whole human genomes to date, and given our state-of-the-art sequencing and bioinformatics technologies, we are excited about the potential to have a meaningful impact on advancing new treatments for autism spectrum disorder.” 

“Piece by piece, we are discovering genetic mutations that can cause autism and we have learned from examples involving single gene disorders associated with autism, such as Fragile X and Rett Syndrome, that genetic findings substantially increase our understanding of the underlying biology of autism,” said Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., Autism Speaks chief science officer. “Our ultimate goal is for the information we will gain from whole genome sequencing to contribute to the development of novel effective treatments to improve the lives of individuals impacted by autism.”

AGRE is a research program based in the U.S. designed to accelerate the pace of science by providing a ready and available data base for researchers, thereby allowing them to focus their time and efforts on analyzing the data and looking for answers rather than collecting data on a study-by-study basis. AGRE provides DNA, clinical, and medical information to autism researchers worldwide. AGRE is the world’s largest private collection of multiplex autism families and is uniquely designed to allow continuing contact with the participating families to collect additional clinical data. For more information on AGRE visit the AGRE website for families and researchers.

About Autism
Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders – autism spectrum disorders – caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by social and behavioral challenges, as well as repetitive behaviors. An estimated 1 in 110 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum – a 600 percent increase in the past two decades that is only partly explained by improved diagnosis.

About Autism Speaks
Autism Speaks is North America’s largest autism science and advocacy organization. Since its inception in 2005, Autism Speaks has made enormous strides, committing over $160 million to research and developing innovative new resources for families. The organization is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. In addition to funding research, Autism Speaks has created resources and programs including the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network, Autism Speaks’ Autism Genetic Resource Exchange and several other scientific and clinical programs. Notable awareness initiatives include the establishment of the annual United Nations-sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, which Autism Speaks celebrates through its Light it Up Blue initiative. Also, Autism Speaks award-winning “Learn the Signs” campaign with the Ad Council has received over $286 million in donated media. Autism Speaks’ family resources include the Autism Video Glossary, a 100 Day Kit for newly-diagnosed families, a School Community Tool Kit and a community grant program. Autism Speaks has played a critical role in securing federal legislation to advance the government’s response to autism, and has successfully advocated for insurance reform to cover behavioral treatments in 27 states thus far, with bills pending in an additional 12 states. Each year Walk Now for Autism Speaks events are held in more than 80 cities across North America. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.

About the Co-Founders
Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Bob Wright is Senior Advisor at Lee Equity Partners and Chairman and CEO of the Palm Beach Civic Association. Heserved as Vice Chairman of General Electric; and as the Chief Executive Officer of NBC and NBC Universal for more than twenty years. He also serves on the boards of the Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation, Mission Product, LLC, EMI Group Global Ltd and the New York Presbyterian Hospital. Suzanne Wright is a Trustee Emeritus of Sarah Lawrence College, her alma mater. Suzanne has received numerous awards, the Women of Distinction Award from Palm Beach Atlantic University, the CHILD Magazine Children’s Champions Award, Luella Bennack Volunteer Award, Spirit of Achievement award by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine's National Women’s Divisionand The Women of Vision Award from the Weizmann Institute of Science. In 2008, the Wrights were named to the Time 100 Heroes and Pioneers category, a list of the most influential people in the world, for their commitment to global autism advocacy. They have also received numerous awards such as the first ever Double Helix Award for Corporate Leadership, NYU Child Advocacy Award, Castle Connolly National Health Leadership Award and The American Ireland Fund Humanitarian Award. In May of 2010 they received Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degrees from St. John’s University in Queens and delivered the commencement address as the first married couple to be bestowed such an honor. 

About BGI
BGI was founded in Beijing, China on September 9th, 1999 with the mission of being a premier scientific partner to the global research community. The goal of BGI is to make leading-edge genomic science highly accessible through its investment in infrastructure that leverages the best available technology, economies of scale, and expert bioinformatics resources. BGI, and its affiliates, BGI Americas and BGI Europe, have established partnerships and collaborations with leading academic and government research institutions as well as global biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, supporting a variety of disease, agricultural, environmental, and related applications.

BGI has established a proven track record of excellence, delivering results with high efficiency and accuracy for innovative, high-profile research which has generated over 170 publications in top-tier journals such as Nature and Science. These accomplishments include sequencing one percent of the human genome for the International Human Genome Project, contributing 10 percent to the International Human HapMap Project, carrying out research to combat SARS and German deadly E. coli, playing a key role in the Sino-British Chicken Genome Project, and completing the sequence of the rice genome, the silkworm genome, the first Asian diploid genome, the potato genome, and, most recently, 1,000 genomes and human Gut metagenome.

For more information about BGI, please visit www.genomics.cn or www.bgisequence.com