Scientists have devised a universal test for autism in babies that uses a single hair.
Analyze samples for levels of metals such as mercury, lead, and aluminum. These are higher in children with autism.
The test requires sending hair samples to a lab for analysis and has been shown to accurately predict autism 81% of the time in peer-reviewed studies.
It has been described as “breakthrough” by independent scientists and is now being rapidly tracked by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
New test scans hair for warning signs of condition due to genetic risk factors
Other scientists heralded the test as a “breakthrough” development for a notoriously difficult-to-diagnose condition that affects 5.4 million Americans and 700,000 British people.
There are no standard tests for this condition, so doctors must rely on the child’s developmental history and behavior.
As such, children in the US are usually formally diagnosed at age 4, whereas in the UK the average age is 6.
But scientists at LinusBio, a New York-based startup, say the new test should be used in combination with other methods, not alone.
However, they claim it may help shorten the diagnostic window.
Manish Arora, the company’s co-founder and CEO, told NBC News, “The distinct rhythms of autism can be detected in just about a centimeter of hair.
“The problem with autism is that it is diagnosed at the average age of 4. By that time, a lot of brain development has already happened.
“We want to enable early intervention.”
In the test, scientists first use a laser to remove the surface layer of the hair.
A second, more powerful laser is then shone along the hair and measurements are taken at 650 points every centimeter. This will also turn the strands into plasma.
Checks for substances associated with autism, including metals such as lead, cadmium, and arsenic.
Autistic children’s hair contains high levels of metals such as lead and arsenic.
It may be related to genetic factors or exposure to toxic metals in the environment, but researchers aren’t sure why this is the case.
The results are fed into a computer program that searches for patterns indicative of autism.
It was developed based on research involving hundreds of people in Sweden and the United States.
Just one centimeter (less than half an inch) records roughly a month’s worth of environmental exposure.
Scientists tested the method on hair taken from 468 Japanese children who were about one month old.
The results were then compared to a clinical diagnosis of autism completed when the young were about 4 years old.
Scientists found that the test correctly identified autism in 394 cases (81% of the total).
It correctly identified autism in 96.4% of children and correctly judged 75.4% of non-autistic children.
The results were published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, and the developers are now working on a new, expanded study of 2,000 people.
A scientist not involved in the study expressed support behind the test but said more research was needed.
“This technology is incredibly novel,” said Dr. Andrea Baccarelli, an environmental health science expert at Columbia University in New York City.
“The use of hair and the kind of measurements they’re doing is revolutionary. It’s groundbreaking.
Dr. Scott Myers, neurodevelopmental pediatrician at the Geisinger Autism and Developmental Medicine Institute, adds:
Autism is something people are born with and their brains work differently than other people.
People with this condition may have difficulty communicating, have difficulty understanding other people’s thoughts and feelings, and may feel anxious or upset in unfamiliar situations or social events.
Scientists are uncertain about the cause of the condition, although environmental and genetic factors are thought to play a role.
The UK health service NHS says it was not caused by bad parenting, vaccines, diet or infections.
Treatment focuses on providing those affected with a plan to support their neurological and social development.
In other news…
Autism diagnoses among U.S. children and teens jumped 50% over the three-year period starting in 2017, a study found.
Taking Xanax during pregnancy does not increase baby’s risk of autism, major study determines
Scientists have developed a blood test that can detect Alzheimer’s disease, potentially a game changer for the disease.
What is autism?
What does autism mean?
Being autistic does not mean you have an illness or disease. That means your brain works differently than other people.
It’s either something you’re born with or it first appeared in your childhood.
If you have autism, you will have autism for life.
Autism is not a medical condition with a treatment or “cure”. But some people need support to help them with certain things.
People with autism may:
You find it difficult to communicate and interact with others
Overwhelmed, stressed, or uncomfortable by bright lights, loud noises, etc.
find it difficult to understand how others think or feel
Feeling anxious or upset about unfamiliar situations or social events
Takes time to understand information
doing or thinking the same thing over and over
What Causes Autism?
The cause of autism is not clear.
No one knows what causes autism or if there is a cause. It can affect people in the same family. Therefore, it can be passed from parent to child.
Autism does not cause:
- bad parenting
- Vaccines such as the MMR vaccine
- Infections that you may spread to others