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About SickKids

July 8, 2009

Do you want to spit for science?

SickKids researchers invite kids to be part of a massive science project – by spitting in a tube at the Ontario Science Centre

TORONTO – Mom always said that spitting was not polite – especially in public. Well, this summer the rules have changed. Children and teens are spitting in tubes at the Ontario Science Centre to help researchers from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) better understand the link between genes and behaviour.

The goal of “Spit for Science” is to collect DNA from saliva and behavioural data from 10,000 youth aged seven to 17. Researchers are examining how genes are related to obsessive- compulsive, inattentive and hyperactive behaviours in the general public.

Before providing their saliva samples, young participants complete a computer task that allows researchers to measure their reaction time. Parents also fill out a questionnaire about their child. Those who take part in the project receive a small prize.

Three times a day, presentations about genetics and behaviour are given by undergraduate and graduate university science students, who aim to be role models to young visitors and show them that science is cool. Visitors can ask questions about the research and ask the university students about their choice to pursue a career in science.

"This is an innovative way of bringing science out of the lab and into a public place where young people can take part in a real science project,” says Dr. Russell Schachar, Psychiatrist and Senior Scientist in Neurosciences and Mental Health at SickKids. ““Spit for Science” enables us to look at the relationship between DNA and child behaviour.”

Dr. Schachar says behavioural traits are not the same as disorders, but this study should give us some very important clues about the kind of very serious conditions that affect children. In the long run, the researchers hope that genes identified through "spitting for science" will lead to treatment of behavioural disorders.

“It’s a win-win-win situation: researchers have access to diverse pools of participants, while members of the public have the chance to contribute to the advancement of science and learn about genes and behaviour,” says Sara Poirier, Researcher/Programmer at the Ontario Science Centre. “As a result, the Science Centre becomes a place where science happens, evolving beyond ‘hands on’ to include ‘hands in’ experiences in science.”

Dr. Schachar, along with his colleagues Dr. Paul Arnold, Psychiatrist and Scientist-Track Investigator in Genetics and Genomic Biology at SickKids and Dr. Jennifer Crosbie, Psychologist and Team Investigator in Neurosciences and Mental Health at SickKids, are conducting this research thanks to a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

“Spit for Science” runs until Labour Day and takes place in the Communication Hall on level six of the Ontario Science Centre.

The “Spit for Science” study blog can be found by clicking here.

About SickKids
The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), affiliated with the University of Toronto, is Canada’s most research-intensive hospital and the largest centre dedicated to improving children’s health in the country. As innovators in child health, SickKids improves the health of children by integrating care, research and teaching. Our mission is to provide the best in complex and specialized care by creating scientific and clinical advancements, sharing our knowledge and expertise and championing the development of an accessible, comprehensive and sustainable child health system. For more information, please visit www.sickkids.ca. SickKids is committed to healthier children for a better world.

About the Ontario Science Centre
The Ontario Science Centre opened on September 26, 1969, pioneering the concept of an interactive science museum. Since then, well over 40 million visitors have passed through its doors. It is a model for over 1,000 science centres around the world that have been built since its inception.

The Ontario Science Centre uses science as the lens to inspire and actively engage people in new ways of seeing, understanding and thinking about themselves and the world around them. The Ontario Science Centre is an agency of the Government of Ontario. Please visit us at www.ontariosciencecentre.ca

For more information, please contact:

Matet Nebres
The Hospital for Sick Children

Christine Crosbie
Ontario Science Centre
Cell: 416-895-5482