Background: The phenotypic and genetic heterogeneity of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) presents considerable challenges in understanding etiological pathways, selecting effective therapies, providing genetic counselling, and predicting clinical outcomes. With advances in genetic and biological research alongside rapid-pace technological innovations, there is an increasing imperative to access large, representative, and diverse cohorts to advance knowledge of ASD. To date, there has not been any single collective effort towards a similar resource in Australia, which has its own unique ethnic and cultural diversity. The Australian Autism Biobank was initiated by the Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism (Autism CRC) to establish a large-scale repository of biological samples and detailed clinical information about children diagnosed with ASD to facilitate future discovery research.
Methods: The primary group of participants were children with a confirmed diagnosis of ASD, aged between 2 and 17 years, recruited through four sites in Australia. No exclusion criteria regarding language level, cognitive ability, or comorbid conditions were applied to ensure a representative cohort was recruited. Both biological parents and siblings were invited to participate, along with children without a diagnosis of ASD, and children who had been queried for an ASD diagnosis but did not meet diagnostic criteria. All children completed cognitive assessments, with probands and parents completing additional assessments measuring ASD symptomatology. Parents completed questionnaires about their child's medical history and early development Physical measurements and biological samples (blood, stool, urine, and hair) were collected from children, and physical measurements and blood samples were collected from parents. Samples were sent to a central processing site and placed into long-term storage.
Discussion: The establishment of this biobank is a valuable international resource incorporating detailed clinical and biological information that will help accelerate the pace of ASD discovery research. Recruitment into this study has also supported the feasibility of large-scale biological sample collection in children diagnosed with ASD with comprehensive phenotyping across a wide range of ages, intellectual abilities, and levels of adaptive functioning. This biological and clinical resource will be open to data access requests from national and international researchers to support future discovery research that will benefit the autistic community.