Children as young as 12 months could soon be able to be tested for autism, thanks to new research from the University of San Diego, California.
“This is going to lead to much better treatments at a much earlier stage and a large percentage of children having an excellent outcome,” said study leader Professor Courchesne, one of the world’s leading experts on the neurobiology of autism.
The discovery is the result of six years of work by Prof Courchesne, who scanned the brains and analysed the blood of more than 600 children spanning 12 months to four years of age. They were able to identify several gene networks that are a common thread in the development of autism.
The news coms on the same day as research from the Cambridge University discovered a link between autism and anorexia. The blood test breakthrough actually came about after the scholars found that teenage girls with anorexia have an above average number of autistic traits.
“People have been looking at individual genes. What we’ve found is that it’s how these genes combine in networks and how these networks disrupt brain growth that is a common pathway in autism,” said Prof Courchesne. He went on to explain that during the second trimester of pregnancy these gene networks disrupt the production cells in the brains of gestating babies.
“A blood screening test is being developed. At this stage it’s looking very promising that the blood screening test will have high accuracy, specificity and sensitivity for children at risk of autism.