Imaging technique for Autism

YOKI

Minister's of Penmai
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#1
[h=1]Brain Imaging Could Detect Autism Risk in Infants as Young as 6 Months[/h]

Researchers say they may soon be able to identify babies at high risk of autism as early as 6 months old.
Currently, clinicians can’t diagnose autism until toddlers are about 2, when the first behavioral and language symptoms of the developmental disorder become noticeable. There is a push to identify at-risk babies earlier, though, since early intervention may be critical for halting abnormal development and preventing the most troublesome behavioral outcomes associated with autism. But while scientists are developing more sophisticated screening tests that rely on brain-imaging techniques or eye-tracking technologies that monitor an infant’s gaze to pick up early autistic signs, there is still no reliable way to diagnose the condition in younger infants.

Now, reporting in the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers say that they may finally have a tool that will select out the highest-risk infants at just 6 months old. The innovative test, known as fractional anisotropy, measures the density of white matter, the part of brain that is rich in nerve fibers and makes up the major neural pathways that connect various regions of the brain. Specifically, the technology measures the diffusion of water through nerve-fiber tracts to gauge the density of myelin, the substance that insulates the sometimes long fibers that connect one nerve cell to another; the density of myelin serves as a rough stand-in for the density of neural connections in the brain.
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Image created by Jason Wolff, Ph.D.
Red and yellow regions represent abnormal nerve fiber development in six month old infants who develop autism




The researchers monitored the children’s brain and behavior development. At 6, 12 and 24 months, the scientists measured the density of the babies’ nerve fibers in the brain, and then tracked them to see who would end up being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by age 2 and who did not.
Children who were eventually diagnosed with ASDs were more likely to show thicker, denser nerve-fiber readings at 6 months, compared with normally developing children. But by the time the infants were 2, the situation was reversed: the ASD toddlers had thinner white matter than those who did not develop autism.




 

YOKI

Minister's of Penmai
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A better understanding of how the autistic brain works could, of course, help scientists develop better therapies to treat the disorder. Better interventions could even help prevent ASDs from progressing to more advanced stages that keep children and adults from becoming functioning members of society.
Detecting the first signs of autism, perhaps even in infants younger than 6 months, may be an important part of that effort as well. Studies show, for example, that toddlers on the road to autism who are engaged in language and social-skills therapy can improve their cognitive development and IQ score by as much as 17 points. “One can imagine a day [when], if a baby is suspected of being at risk of developing autism, one could use a biomarker test like this one to identify infants who should perhaps receive early stimulation in language and social development so they can improve their outcomes,” says Dawson. That’s the goal, and tests like these can bring us one step closer toward achieving it.

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YOKI

Minister's of Penmai
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#3
There is evidence that even unaffected siblings of autistic children have similar brain changes to those of their autistic brothers and sisters, and may even exhibit subtle symptoms of the disorder.

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