Scientists Investigating Test for Autism
One in 68 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder, a 30% increase from 1 in 88 two years ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Scientists have taken the first steps towards what they say could become a new blood and urine test for autism. A study at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute tested children with and without the condition and found higher levels of protein damage in those with the disorder.
The researchers said the tests could lead ultimately to the earlier detection of the condition, which can be difficult to diagnose. While prior research often focused on single metabolites or biomarkers, this new process measures 24 separate metabolites from a blood sample and, through a complex algorithm, can allegedly determine whether an individual is on the autism spectrum.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a range of conditions classified as disorders related to neurological development. Individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder present with two types of symptoms: problems in social communication and social interaction, and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities.
Experts caution that an autism test is still a long way off, but the initial results reported are impressive. The sample group consisted of 83 participants with ASD and 76 age-matched participants not on the autism spectrum. The technique correctly identified 96.1 percent of the neurotypical participants, a term used to describe those not on the autism spectrum, and 97.6 percent of the ASD diagnosed participants.
It is important to note that the specific metabolites and pathways examined by the research have not in any way been definitively connected to ASD. There is also concern that many other behavioral disorders, such as epilepsy, could be related to these similar biomarkers, leading to misdiagnosis.
The next step was to replicate the study’s findings in other groups. Researchers looked at 5-12 year olds for this study. Now researchers will likely look at younger children, as autism is typically diagnosed at around age two. Researchers will also be looking to test a larger population to validate that the test is effective as a diagnostic tool. The tests could eventually reveal factors that cause autism.