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The project, funded by the Hartwell Foundation, will assemble many types of biological data from children with autism and make the information freely available to researchers worldwide.

Dennis Wall, PhD, an autism researcher at Stanford University School of Medicine, is leading a new project to establish the largest-ever collaborative, open-access repository of bioinformatic data on autism.

The Hartwell Autism Research and Technology Initiative, known as iHART, will provide the scientific community with a centralized repository of data to benefit biomedical research on autism and help children affected with the developmental disorder, which hinders social and communication skills. It is funded by a $9 million grant from the Hartwell Foundation, a charitable organization whose mission is to support early-stage biomedical research projects that improve the health and well-being of children in the United States.

Wall, an associate professor of systems medicine in the Department of Pediatrics, will direct the iHART cloud-based computing and communications technology platform. The initiative seeks to assemble a comprehensive scientific repository of data on autism spectrum disorder through collaboration with researchers. The bioinformatics effort will deploy state-of-the-art computational tools of systems biology, machine learning and inference algorithms to inspire users to exploit the full potential of available data related to autism.

“Our goal is for iHART’s easily accessible computing and analytics platform to enable complex queries that may refine the definitions of autism,” Wall said. “We hope iHART will lead the way toward clinical translation of various biomarkers for early detection and therapeutic intervention, and provide a multitude of solutions that help families and their children.”

The platform will enable researchers to ask questions that simultaneously draw on many kinds of data on autism spectrum disorder, including phenotypes, proteomics, metabolomics, genomics, measurements and imaging of brain activity, information on the gut microbiome, blood-based biomarkers, physician narratives, diagnostic test results and treatment protocols. The platform will include a portal to enable data integration, as well as experimental design and validation. The initial repository integrates genetic, phenotypic, genomic and other data on nearly 5,000 individuals affected with autism spectrum disorder.

In addition to the School of Medicine, the Hartwell Foundation will collaborate with the Simons Foundation, the University of California-Los Angeles and the New York Genome Center to accelerate the addition of autism data to the database.

This article first appeared on Stanford Medicine’s news center.