Children with autism will be examined by UW researchers to compare social impairment and social function and identify biomarkers for the disorder.

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University of Washington researchers will be recruiting Seattle-area children with autism as part of a four-year, $28 million study at five sites across the nation to identify biological markers that could help diagnose, track and treat the disorder.

The new Biomarkers Consortium project, announced Monday, will recruit about 600 children over 24 weeks at centers including UW/Seattle Children’s Research Institute, Duke University, Boston Children’s Hospital, the University of California at Los Angeles and Yale University. Principal investigator is James McPartland, director of the Yale Developmental Disabilities Clinic.

Researchers will examine preschoolers ages 3 to 5 and school-aged kids ages 6 to 11, both with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), to compare social impairment and social function. They’ll look at eye-tracking responses and brain activity for future clinical trials, officials with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said in a statement. They’ll also collect blood samples from kids with autism and their parents for future analysis.

“This is one of the largest single NIH-funded grants focused on autism ever,” Raphael Bernier, clinical director of the Seattle Children’s Autism Center, said in a statement. “It reflects the importance of this endeavor. We need to catch up with other clinical concerns like cancer and cardiovascular disease on establishing biomarkers for autism.”

The goal is to produce a set of markers of social and communication function in ASD that can be used to study long-term results in clinical and drug-development studies.

About one in every 68 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 1 percent of children worldwide have a condition on the spectrum, experts say.

ASD is a group of neurodevelopment disorders that affects social interaction and communication skills and can cause restrictive and repetitive behaviors.

Families interested in participating can go online at or or call 206-616-2889.