New Canada-U.S. Partnership Paves the Way for International Collaborations in Autism Research

TORONTO, Sept. 16, 2015 /CNW/ - Canada's Ontario Brain Institute (OBI) and the U.S.' National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) are linking up their big data initiatives to promote sharing and drive autism spectrum disorder (ASD) research forward.

ASD affects over 3 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide. Beginning early in childhood, ASD affects an individual's ability to think, learn, interact socially, and live independently. Researchers know that there is no single cause of ASD but rather a combination of factors including genetic risk and environmental stressors may come into play. The heterogeneity in the way the disorder presents itself makes it difficult to treat and complicated to study. For these reasons, today's ASD researchers come from a wide-range of science and medical backgrounds and they are interested in looking at broad collections of data ranging from brain imaging to behavioural assessments.

OBI's Province of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Disorders (POND) Network involves over 39 core researchers at multiple academic and clinical sites studying ASD as well as other neurodevelopmental disorders including: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, Intellectual disability, Rett, Tourette, fragile X, and Down syndrome. Through this unique program, researchers in the POND Network share their data on OBI's advanced data and analytics platform, the Brain Centre for Ontario Data Exploration (Brain-CODE). The platform allows researchers to share, manage, and analyze their data in an ultra-secure space that enables them to ask never-before-possible questions of their data and that of their peers.

Brain-CODE has the ability to link to other secure databases anywhere in the world.  Today, the Ontario Brain Institute and the National Institute of Mental Health announce their new partnership to link their powerful databases leading to new possibilities for global collaborations in ASD research.

The National Database for Autism Research (NDAR) seeks to facilitate data sharing and scientific collaboration on a broad scale, providing a shared common platform for autism researchers. NDAR integrates and standardizes data, tools, and computational techniques across multiple public and private autism databases. NDAR is supported by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), of which NIMH is a component.

The two-way linkage will leverage the potential of existing data and provides Canada and U.S.-based researchers with a whole new set of possibilities.

"Sharing data has become critical to understanding complex heterogeneous disorders such as ASD. No group alone has large enough sample sizes to examine and interpret such heterogeneity. By combining resources, we significantly increase our chances to both understand the different underlying biologies and to translate such discoveries into novel treatments," explains Evdokia Anagnostou, MD, POND Principal Investigator, in the Bloorview Research Institute at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.

This initial linkage is likely to pave the way for others to come "the NIH holds a strong vision of partnership and collaboration much like OBI does. We are confident that this unique linkage between NDAR and Brain-CODE will prompt future collaborations in other areas of brain research with NIH and other global leaders in health research," says Dr. Donald Stuss, President and Scientific Director, Ontario Brain Institute.

"OBI and NDAR share the same goal of making a variety of data types readily available for scientists to mine. Federating these two platforms is a natural and welcome next step, building on the work of both," says Greg Farber, Director of the Office of Technology Development and Coordination, National  Institute of Mental Health.

 "Open access to data from many people and many studies is paramount in ASD research because of the tremendous range of symptom type and severity among those affected," says Dr. Thomas Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health. "This new link between repositories will further leverage the resources of both NDAR and OBI and enlarge the already rich well of data from which researchers can draw to address autism and other disorders."

"Autism Speaks is partners with both Ontario Brain Institute and NIMH and applauds this collaborative initiative to increase supports for the ASD research community. We value the significance of cross-border partnerships as vital to accelerating advancements in ASD knowledge."

Jill Farber, Executive Director, Autism Speaks Canada.

"Autism Ontario is thrilled with the news of the partnership between Ontario Brain Institute and NIMH.  This important collaboration will drive ASD research into the future; positively impacting people with ASD, their families and the community at large."

Margaret Spoelstra, Executive Director, Autism Ontario.

"Ontario supports collaborative partnerships that nurture scientific discoveries and have the potential to change lives. Working together and sharing secure big data will drive research at OBI and NIMH forward in ways we could not have imagined a couple of years ago. This research will help people with ASD while bringing comfort to their families and is another example of how our investments are bringing tangible benefits to Ontarians and people around the world."

Reza Moridi, Minister of Research and Innovation

About the Ontario Brain Institute:

The Ontario Brain Institute is a provincially-funded, not-for-profit research centre seeking to maximize the impact of neuroscience and establish Ontario as a world leader in brain research, commercialization and care. We create convergent partnerships between researchers, clinicians, industry, patients, and their advocates to foster discovery and deliver innovative products and services that improve the lives of those living with brain disorders.

About the National Institute of Mental Health:

The mission of the NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. NIMH is part of the National Institutes of Health, a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary U.S. agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases.

SOURCE Ontario Brain Institute

For further information: Michelle Wilson, Senior Program Lead, Communications, Ontario Brain Institute, Tel.: (647) 872-1215,,


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