Scientists in California have discovered evidence that might one day lead to a routine test for autism that could be performed at birth. An actual diagnostic blood test is still several years away, but David Amaral, research director at the University of California – Davis M.I.N.D. (Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders) Institute, calls this “an important pilot experiment, a proof of principle.”
Studying blood samples from 70 4- to 6-year-olds with autism and 35 without, researchers at the M.I.N.D. Institute found differences in components of the immune systems, proteins and metabolites of the two groups. These differences could allow doctors to detect autism at birth, rather than through behavioral observations that aren’t reliable until 2 or 3 years of age. Experts believe this could open up an earlier window for treatment, leading to better outcomes for autistic children.
Because many experts now theorize that a vulnerability, such as a genetic abnormality, predisposes some children to autism if they are exposed to certain triggers, testing at birth might also prevent cases of autism. For more information, visit the institute’s Web site at www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/mindinstitute.