Study finds new biomarker for early autism detection

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Traditionally, autism is diagnosed around the age of two or three, when a child begins having difficulties with communication, social interaction and behavior. The earlier the diagnosis, the greater the success rate of medical intervention. Now a new study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, shows that an MRI scan can reveal whether a six-month-old is at risk for developing autism–and thus allow for earlier intervention.

During infancy, the human brain is a busy place, as new neural connections are being developed and organized at a rapid pace. An international research team, which included Alan Evans of the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, found that, even during this early stage, a brain scan can detect abnormal brain development that is linked to autism.

The researchers followed 92 infants who were considered high-risk for developing autism. (Each baby had an older sibling with a developmental disorder.) Each infant was given a diffusion tensor imaging MRI scan at six months, and a behavioral assessment to diagnose autism at 24 months. Of the infants who were diagnosed with autism, most had significantly different white matter tract development.

“For the first time, we have an encouraging finding that enables the possibility of developing autism risk biomarkers prior to the appearance of symptoms, and in advance of our current ability to diagnose autism,” says Professor Evans.

Read more about this study here.

Photo: © yalayama – Fotolia.com

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