Scientists in Utica are studying if there a connection between autism and congenital heart defects.

The research is being done thanks to more than $400,000 in grants from the American Heart Association.

The Masonic Medical Research Institute's executive director says that there could be a link. She says almost all of the patients they study with congenital heart disease, or a rare disease, have cognitive impairments.

"We do think that it is a lot more common than I think has been previously identified before," said Dr. Maria Kontaridis, executive director of the Masonic Medical Research Institute (MMRI). "From the autistic side of things, we know that some patients that have autism also have congenital heart disease, but I'm not sure what the numbers are overall."

MMRI staff hope to find the molecular link between autism and congenital heart disease in their preliminary studies. Then, they can apply for more funding to learn more about how the disease happens and how to treat it.