Published: Fri, February 17, 2017
Health | By Bessie Ortiz

U Researchers Help In Study Showing Way To Predict Autism In Infants

U Researchers Help In Study Showing Way To Predict Autism In Infants

They also scanned the brains of 42 infants who fell into the "low-risk" category.

However, she added: "One of the issues, at the moment, is when parents get an autism diagnosis, they don't get much information about what to do next". The study was published February 15 in the journal Nature.

Brain scans can be used to help detect autism in high-risk babies long before any symptoms emerge, according to a new US study that could mark a "giant step forward" in autism research, scientists say.

What scientists found was that these high-risk children, who went on to develop ASD, experienced a hyper-expansion of the brain from six to 12 months of age. Of the 106 baby sibs, 15 received an autism diagnosis at age 2.

"We don't have such a tool yet", said Estes.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina have developed a method using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in infants with older siblings with autism to correctly predict whether infants would later meet the criteria for autism at two years old.

Roughly 1 in 100 children in the USA are diagnosed with autism. The study, led by researchers from the University of North Carolina, was published Wednesday in Nature. Other key collaborators are McGill University, the University of Alberta, the University of Minnesota, the College of Charleston and New York University. But studies haven't proven these early behaviors to be reliable predictors, said co-author Jed Elison, an assistant professor in the U's Institute of Child Development. It appears that, for reasons scientists don't yet understand, this early growth in the front of the brain is the beginning of a pattern that leads to bigger brains overall. "We could not have made these discoveries without their wholehearted participation". The researchers took images of the all the babies' brains at six, 12, and 24 months.

Researchers observed that infants who were diagnosed with autism displayed significant growth in brain volume in the first year of life. These so-called 'baby sibs' are about 20 times more likely to have autism than are children in the general population.

The team of researchers who conducted this study mentioned that this research is still experimental. They identified the physical differences in the brains and were able to predict 80 percent of the children in the second high-risk group who met the clinical criteria for autism.

Children who appear to be intellectually and behaviorally normal start developing symptoms around age two or slightly later. "Once you've missed those developmental milestones, catching up is a struggle for many and almost impossible for some".

Numerous measurements the algorithm relied on most are related to surface area, and came from 6-month-old children. Although there is still no cure, early intervention provides an opportunity to reduce symptoms and improve social, cognitive, and emotional skills.

Detecting autism in its early stages could help experts address the issue while the brain is still malleable, say researchers.

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