Doctors May Now Be Able To Predict Autism Before Age One

16 February, 2017, 00:23 | Author: Garry Little
  • 'U' researcher may have way to predict autism

"In the field we are always trying to detect autism at younger ages, so we can start treatment earlier, but we hit a wall around 2 to 3 years of age, because the symptoms don't start showing up until around then", said the study's senior author, Joseph Piven, a professor of psychiatry, psychology and pediatrics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in an interview with CNBC. "Before the consolidation of symptoms and brain deficits and at a time when the brain is most malleable, giving us the greatest chance of having an impact with early intervention".

One in every 100 people has autism, which affects behaviour and particularly social interaction.

The scientists used MRI imaging on 106 high-risk infants (who had autistic older siblings) and 42 low-risk infants.

The results of the MRI indicated that the brain differences between the ages of 6 months to 1 year were successful in predicting whether the child in question met the criteria for autism 80 percent of the time, according to the study report, published by the National Institutes of Health.

Surface area measurements (blue) in certain areas of the brains of 6-month-old babies can distinguish children with autism from those without the condition.

The computer program developed the best algorithm to accomplish this, and the researchers applied the algorithm to a separate set of study participants. Enlarged brain volume has previously been observed in children with autism.

Between 12 and 24 months of age, the surface area growth rate evens out in the two groups. But children in groups with higher rates of autism - like those who have affected siblings or who carry genes linked to autism - might benefit the most from it.

Also, the approach was almost ideal in predicting which high-risk babies would not develop autism by age 2.

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The MRIs revealed that babies who eventually developed autism experienced much more rapid growth of their brain's surface area ― essentially, the folds on the surface of the brain ― in their first year than children who did not develop the disorder. "If we are able to replicate these results in further studies, these findings promise to change how we approach infant and toddler screening for autism, making it possible to identify infants who will later develop autism before the behavioral symptoms of autism become apparent", Schultz said.

The idea would be to then intervene "pre-symptomatically" before the emergence of the defining symptoms of autism.

"There's a developmental sequence", he said, "and it raises the possibility that we could sort of disrupt that sequence early on".

The same collaborators published a related study last month using functional MRI scans to identify brain networks involved in a key social behavior called initiation of joint attention.

The predictive power of the team's findings may inform the development of a diagnostic tool for ASD that could be used in the first year of life, before behavioral symptoms have emerged.

"Putting this into the larger context of neuroscience research and treatment, there is now a big push within the field to be able to detect the biomarkers of these conditions before patients are diagnosed, at a time when preventive efforts are possible", Piven added.

"Our hope is that early intervention, before age two, can change the clinical course of those children whose brain development has gone awry and help them acquire skills that they would otherwise struggle to achieve", said Stephen Dager, a co-author at the University of Washington's Center on Human Development and Disability.

'Now we have very promising leads that suggest this may in fact be possible'. It is a developmental disorder that varies in severity from person to person. That change happened before the child's first birthday. In addition, its unique family-centered care and public service programs have brought the 535-bed hospital recognition as a leading advocate for children and adolescents.

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