Study: Experimental blood test could help diagnose autism

- Researchers think they have found a combination of proteins that could be predictive of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) when present in a child’s blood.

Research published in PLoS Computational Biology suggests a simple blood test can detect the condition in more than 96 percent of cases and could allow doctors to diagnose patients on the autism spectrum much more quickly.

The researchers, Daniel P. Howsmon and his colleagues, tested for 24 proteins that have already been linked to ASD. There were five proteins that stood out as being the most reliable predictors for the condition.

Doctors usually rely on observation of behavior to diagnose ASD, but this still-experimental blood test could change diagnosis procedures dramatically. The researchers acknowledged the test would not be a replacement for behavioral testing.

“However, physiological measurements should support these behavioral diagnoses in the future in order to enable earlier and more accurate diagnoses,” the study’s abstract says.

The study says the test could be added to a doctor’s diagnosis tool box as a way to help reassure worried parents and to begin treatments sooner than the current average age of diagnosis, which is 4-years-old.

The researchers also hope the identification of proteins predictive of ASD will further research into the cause of the disorders, and one day result in better treatments or a cure.

An estimated 1 in 68 babies will have some form of ASD, and the number of diagnosed cases has gone up over the last 40 years. But the underlying cause of ASD is still up for debate after it was shown that childhood vaccines are not responsible.

To view the full study, visit http://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005385.

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