New brain scan could predict autism in newborns, researchers claim
Scientists have developed a brain scan, which can accurately predict whether a newborn will develop autism. This is the first time that just one scan has been used to diagnose the disorder in children, experts claim.
Developed by a team of scientists at the University of North Carolina (UNC), United States (U.S.), it works with 96 percent accuracy in six-month-old infants – much more precise than other scans. It shows which regions of their brains are connected and synchronized, and which are not. With this information, they can predict which babies have certain abnormalities in their brain connections, which puts them at higher risk of developing autism before the age of two. A previous UNC-lead study, published in Nature in February, used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRIs) to determine differences in brain anatomy that predict which babies would develop autism as toddlers.
However, this research zeroes in on one age, providing an earlier and sharper snapshot of their future cognitive health. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is an umbrella term used to describe a range of impairments to social and communication functions, often accompanied by restricted and repetitive behaviors.
Estimates on the disorder’s prevalence vary, with some reports concluding as many as one in 68 children under the age of eight fall into the category. It is unlikely that there is any single cause that can account for ASD’s traits, with numerous genes, metabolic dysfunctions, and neurological ‘switches’ implicated.
But whatever the fundamental causes might be, until now a clear diagnosis has only been possible once a child has started to develop more complex social behaviours, usually around the age of two.