News Worms
News Worms

Study finds way to detect risk of autism in babies

This study is the earliest known description of how functional brain systems underlie an important social behavior. Diagnosis of ASD typically occurs after 24 months of age, the earliest time when behavioral characteristics of ASD can be observed.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects approximately 3.5 million Americans and is most likely to be identified by the age of four.

This would help with identifying children even earlier, so there is a lot of excitement about that.

"We see an increased rate of growth in the outer surface of the brain, the folds, the sort of waviness of the surface that's followed by an overgrowth of the brain in the second year", said co-author Joseph Piven of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill according to CBS News. The researchers mentioned that there might be a way to predict autism.

Certain rare mutations are linked to ASD, but the vast majority of cases can not be pinned to a single or even a handful of genetic risk factors.

The findings suggest that surface expansion of the brain precedes overall overgrowth and the emergence of autism features.

What did their latest study look at?

Three groups of infants were tested in the study: infants with a high family risk of autism, who were diagnosed with it by age of two, infants with a high family risk, who were not diagnosed with it by age of two and infants with a low family risk, who were not diagnosed with it by age of two.

Specifically, the researchers found that babies who went on to develop autism showed hyperexpansion of the brain's surface area between 6 and 12 months of age. This study was conducted only on infants that had a high risk of developing this condition.

After feeding the scans of the babies at six, 12, and 24 months into an algorithm, the researchers were able to identify, with an 80 percent degree of accuracy, which babies would subsequently receive an autism diagnosis.

Usually, an autism determination is made by behavioral indicators.

Researchers at multiple sites across the United States and Canada studied MRI scans of babies at age six months and 12 months.

A lot more research, agree Pivens' team and other experts. The brain volume seemed to expand by the time they were 2 years old.

The National Institutes of Health (grants HD055741, EB 005149, HD003110 and MH093510) funded this study.

The earliest that children tend to be diagnosed at present is at the age of two, although it is often later.

"It was a small study, a little over 100 kids, so I don't know that we can now say as pediatricians, we should order MRIs for all these kids", O'Reilly noted. Whereas it might be okay to leave a neurotypical child to play with a toy, a child headed for autism might benefit from more interaction, he says, with a parent cooing, laughing and singing. Several factors and indicators were noted down with reference to brain statistics.

Scientists believe that there may be a correlation between brain growth visible on brain scans and the eventual development of autism spectrum disorder.

"If we are able to detect it based on early brain development, then we can begin interventions earlier to improve the long-term outcome of these children", explained Dr. Kelly Botteron from the Washington University School of Medicine.


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