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US and Canadian institutes link 'big data' to drive autism research

New partnerships links large autism research databases of National Institute of Mental Health and Canada’s Ontario Brain Institute
September 17, 2015

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and Canada’s Ontario Brain Institute are linking their big data initiatives to advance autism research.

Researchers suspect there are many complex causes and subtypes of autism. This makes the disorder complicated to study and treat. For these reasons, autism researchers come from a wide-range of scientific and medical backgrounds are looking at broad collections of data ranging from brain imaging to behavioral assessments.

The new US-Canadian collaboration will combine information from the Brain Centre for Ontario Data Exploration (Brain-CODE) and the National Database for Autism Research (NDAR) to provide a common platform for autism researchers worldwide. It will include analytic tools and findings from a broad range of studies, ranging from brain imaging to behavioral assessments.

It will complement other global big data endeavors such as Autism Speaks MSSNG program. MSSNG is sequencing the whole genomes of 10,000 individuals in families affected by autism and uploading them to the Google Cloud Platform together with analytic tools to advance research that improves the lives of those affected by autism.

"By combining resources, we significantly increase our chances to both understand [autism’s] different underlying biologies and to translate such discoveries into novel treatments," says Canadian autism researcher and pediatric neurologist Evdokia Anagnostou, of Toronto’s Holland- Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. (Dr. Anagnostou co-directs the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network center at Bloorview.)

"Autism Speaks partners with both Ontario Brain Institute and NIMH and applauds this collaborative initiative to increase supports for the ASD research community,” adds Jill Farber, executive director of Autism Speaks Canada. “We value the significance of cross-border partnerships as vital to accelerating advancements in ASD knowledge."

Autism Speaks Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE) is a major contributor to NDAR.